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Rahal hires Filippi to start season with Indy 500

Italian driver Luca Filippi will race for Bobby Rahal's team beginning with the Indianapolis 500.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will run a full season with Takuma Sato, and said Tuesday it will field a second car for Filippi in 12 races. The two drivers know each other from when they both tested for Honda in Formula One.

"The IndyCar Series is really popular in Italy and my becoming an Indy car racing driver is a dream come true," said Filippi.

"It's a great feeling to be part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Being a racing driver and a big motorsport fan too, it's amazing to have such a legend as Bobby Rahal as team owner. I'm sure he will help me a lot with my IndyCar experience and help me learn all the different dynamics that I will find in my very first American open wheel racing season quickly."

It will be Filippi's first season in an American-based racing series. The 26-year-old spent the last six seasons in the GP2 Series, and was a test driver for Honda in Formula One from 2007 until the end of the 2008 season.

Filippi won three races last season in GP2, which is the European equivalent of the second-tier Indy Lights series. He finished second in the series standings.

"Having followed GP2 the last several years, I have watched Luca's progress with interest," said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. "Despite not always having the best equipment, it was clear he had the ability to not only run competitively but to also win races.

"Having gotten to know him over the last eight months, he has also shown that in addition to being able to win, he would represent Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in a first class manner. We are very excited to begin a long and successful relationship with him."

Rahal is returning to the IndyCar Series this season for the first time since 2008. He'd hoped to field two full-time entries, but when it became clear he couldn't get the second car running by the start of the season, he agreed to let Honda give the engine earmarked for him to Sarah Fisher's race team.

Honda has said it will have a second engine for RLL in time for Indianapolis.

"Racing for a Honda-powered team is fantastic because I feel like I am restarting from where we ended a few years ago when I was the Honda F1 test driver until the end of the Honda F1 project," said Filippi, who is from the northwestern town of Savigliano.

"I'm happy we will work together again and now we both have a new challenge, new motivation and I just can't wait to be at the wheel. I know Takuma from those days. We respect each other and we both think that working together can help us and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing achieve our goals."