F1 veteran Rubens Barichello switches to IndyCar

Rubens Barrichello, right, celebrating a podium finish with Michael Schumacher. Picture: Getty
Rubens Barrichello, right, celebrating a podium finish with Michael Schumacher. Picture: Getty
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FORMULA 1 veteran Rubens Barrichello has announced that he will join the American IndyCar series this season.

Barrichello has reached a one-year deal to race for KV Racing Technology and will make his debut at the season-opener on 25 March in St Petersburg, Florida.

“I am thrilled, it is something very new to me,” Barrichello said. “I’m very competitive and I’m not doing this just for fun, but I’ll keep my feet on the ground in the beginning because I’ll be a rookie despite of all my previous racing experience.”

The 39-year-old Brazilian will participate in all 16 IndyCar races on the calendar, including the five on oval tracks. He had previously said there was a chance he would skip the oval circuits because of safety concerns and out of consideration for his family. “I had always promised to my wife, Silvana, that I wouldn’t race on ovals,” Barrichello said. “But we talked a lot and, in the end, she said that she wouldn’t interfere if this was really what I wanted to do. I think my two sons were actually the ones who helped convince her.”

Initially, Barrichello thought about racing only at the Indy 500, but realized it wouldn’t make sense to skip the other races on ovals. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting at home and watching someone else driving my car,” Barrichello said.

Barrichello drove for the Williams team in F1 last season but lost his spot to countryman Bruno Senna, ending a 19-year career in the series.

KV Racing co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser were also at yesterday’s news conference to announce the deal, as were Barrichello’s new team-mate and old friend, Tony Kanaan. EJ Viso of Venezuela will be the team’s other driver this season. “We are kind of pinching ourselves, it’s a dream to be bringing Rubens to our team,” Vasser said. “We raised our level when we brought Kanaan and now, with Rubens, even more. The sky’s the limit for our team.”

KV also extended Kanaan’s contract for another two years. He had been signed by KV Racing just before last season on a one-year deal. There had been widespread rumours of Barrichello moving to IndyCar since he tested twice for KV Racing earlier this year after being invitated by Kanaan. He drove well and had said his move to the series depended only on finding sponsors. “This wasn’t expected at all at first,” he said. “But it kind of evolved after the first test and now I’m really happy to be starting this new phase in my life.”

The arrival of a well-recognised name in racing such as Barrichello is welcomed by IndyCar, which is trying to revamp its image after ending last season on a low following the death of Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas. “The entire series will get a boost with Rubinho’s presence, it’s another great name added to our grid,” said three-times Indy winner Helio Castroneves, a fellow Brazilian. “He will be fighting for the title and the championship will only gain from that.”

Izod IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard went to one of Barrichello’s tests to meet him.“There’s not a person who knows racing that wouldn’t tell you that Rubens Barrichello is one of the greatest drivers of all time,” he said. “That will create great competition and expands our international platform. There will be millions of fans who want to see what Barrichello can do.”

Barrichello drove in a record 325 races in F1, finishing second in the drivers’ standings in 2002 and 2004, both times behind seven-times champion Michael Schumacher.

He is the biggest name to move to an American-based open-wheel series since F1 champion Nigel Mansell joined CART in 1993.

Mansell won five races and the series title that season.

Barrichello brings with him an ardent fan base – his 1.47 million followers on Twitter is one million more than Kanaan, who leads all IndyCar drivers on Twitter with 448,000 followers.