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March 1 (Reuters) - Rubens Barrichello, the most experienced driver in Formula One, will become an IndyCar rookie after joining KV Racing Technology on Thursday to race in the American open-wheel series.
Barrichello, who spent 19 seasons in F1 and started 322 races - more than any other driver, will make his IndyCar debut on March 25 at the series opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida with the team’s other drivers, fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan and Venezuelan EJ Viso.
”I am thrilled, it is something very new to me,“ said Barrichello in a statement. ”I need to thank everyone involved, especially Tony because he has been involved for a long time.
”This is a new experience, but I am very happy.
“With all my experience I will start as a rookie, but I think I will get better as the year progresses.”
The 39-year-old Barrichello began racing in F1 in 1993, the year before his friend and mentor Ayrton Senna was killed in a crash at Imola, and has competed for Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda, Brawn and Williams recording 11 career wins and 68 podium finishes.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard’s stated goal is to make the series the top destination for the world’s best drivers and the addition of the hugely popular Barrichello to the starting grid is sure to give the series a badly needed boost after the death Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon in the season finale last November and Danica Patrick’s defection to NASCAR.
Replaced at Williams by compatriot Bruno Senna for this season, Barrichello is clearly in the twilight of his career but the Brazilian becomes the biggest name to jump to IndyCar since Britain’s then F1 champion Nigel Mansell in 1993.
The magic of the Indianapolis 500 has held a fascination and special allure for many drivers.
Former F1 champions Jacques Villeneuve, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Jim Clark and Graham Hill are among those to race at the famed Brickyard and put their cars on Victory Lane. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Alison Wildey)