Alex Tagliani will be getting a new teammate for the IZOD IndyCar Series race at Twin Ring Motegi in the Indy Japan 300. Hideki Mutoh will be piloting the No. 17 Honda Formula Dream AFS/SSM Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM).
The No. 17 car is a joint entry between SSM and AFS racing, which is owned by Gary Petersen. Schmidt and Peterson share a long history together, and both have a strong desire to win, not just compete. Like Schmidt, Petersen is a former open-wheel racecar driver. He drove in Firestone Indy Lights before transitioning to a full-time team ownership role.
The Tokyo native heads to the Motegi road course with a record of 52 IndyCar starts. Three of those starts are at Motegi's oval with a track best finish of 11th place in 2008. Mutoh had impressive back-to-back seasons in 2008 and 2009 driving for Andretti Green Racing. In 2008, he captured the IndyCar Series' rookie of the year title, finished 10th in the championship point standings and recorded his career-best finish of second at Iowa Speedway in Newton. The next year, he finished 11th in points, had four top-fives and also led 74 laps at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
When asked about his one-off opportunity, Mutoh said, “I am really looking forward to working with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Motegi. Though this is only one race, it means a lot to me to be able to race in front of my home crowd again. This has been a tough year for Japan and I hope we can bring some excitement to the many fans. I am determined to do well and put up a strong performance for the team. It will also help having Alex Tagliani as a teammate and I really cannot wait to get started.”
Following an accident in 2000, Sam Schmidt began fielding cars in the then INDYCAR Series as team owner in 2001. 2011 marks the 10th anniversary for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
Schmidt had the following to say about his new pilot, “I'm thrilled we're able to give Hideki Mutoh the opportunity to get into an Indy car this season. After showing so much promise in the series last season, and being able to compete at a circuit he has experience at, I can't wait to see what he can to on the road course at Motegi.”