Rocketsports Racing announces Long Beach driver line up

08.04.2008: Rocketsports Racing announces Long Beach driver line up

Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia to make his return to Champ Car alongside Finland’s Juho Annala who will be making his debut

Rocketsports Racing is proud to announce a two-car effort in the upcoming Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The driver lineup for the team will include former-Rocketsports driver Antonio Pizzonia and the introduction of a new face to Champ Car racing with Juho Annala.

The 34th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be a three-day celebration of Champ Car racing, April 18-20. It will be the fans’ last chance to see the 750+ horsepower, turbocharged Champ Cars run, and the final race of Champ Car’s 29 years of rich racing history. The Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League recently signed an agreement, February 22, to unify open-wheel racing in the United States running under the banner series name IndyCar.

A familiar face will return to the streets of Long Beach with Rocketsports, as Pizzonia will pilot the #9 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone entry. In 2006, Pizzonia made his Champ Car debut on the famed 1.97-mile, 11-turn Long Beach race circuit with the Rocketsports team which saw him start 11th on the grid.

A race that showed he was a true contender in the Champ Car World Series when he made his way into the top five after 30 laps, the Brazilian salvaged a top-ten result after an on-track incident complicated his good debut run. Pizzonia went on to make three more starts with the team that year.

"I am very excited to return to Rocketsports Racing and to run in Long Beach, a track that I know," said Pizzonia. "The car will be a surprise for me; I did run with the team in the Champ Car Lola in 2006, but haven’t had the chance to drive the new Champ Car DP01. My schedule will not allow me to have a chance to test, so I will be going straight into the race weekend with no previous experience in these new cars.

It will be a challenge, but I am confident that things will come together as I am a quick learner and have driven a Champ Car already. The team and I will be building on what we started back in 2006, so it is exciting to get back working with engineers and crew members that I am already acclimated with. I am just so happy that Paul Gentilozzi invited me to race for the team in this event. I hope that it all pays off by having a good weekend working together again."

The team will be testing at the MSR Houston road course just outside of Houston, Texas on April 10-11. Pizzonia will not be in attendance due to his commitment of racing in the Nextel Stock Car Brazil Series, as he will have to stay in Brazil to compete in the season opener on April 11-13.

He will then head to the states to participate in the Long Beach Champ Car event. While it is disappointing for Pizzonia to miss out on the opportunity to test with the team, Annala will be on hand to run a Rocketsports DP01 Champ Car in preparation for the upcoming race.

Annala, who will pilot the #10 Rocketsports Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone entry, is only the third driver from Finland to compete in open-wheel racing in the United States. He follows fellow countrymen Mika Salo who competed in 2003 and J.J. Lehto who ran in 1998. In 2007 Annala competed in the International Formula Masters Series and participated in two FIA GT3 European Championship events.

His racing resume is rich in competition over in Europe, with career highlights that include a stellar season in the 2006 Formula 3 British National Class which saw him finish third in the championship with impressive stats that include three wins, three poles, and 17 podiums in 22 races. The 24-year-old’s career began in 1999 racing go-karts and this event will mark his first start in Champ Car.

"I have always liked Champ Car a lot," noted Annala. "I have followed the series and always wanted to race in a Champ Car. It is disappointing that the series will be no longer running after the Long Beach event, but the unification is good news for open-wheel racing here in the United States overall. It is just unreal for me to believe that I will be getting into a 750+ Champ Car this week; dreams really do come true when you work hard and believe.

I just tested a Champ Car Atlantic car in Sebring early February this year, which was a fantastic opportunity, but I was looking at the Champ Car’s and dreaming of the day I could climb into the cockpit of such an amazing race car. I am really excited about this opportunity and I would like to thank Paul Gentilozzi and the Rocketsports team for welcoming me and giving me this experience.

I am definitely going to make the most of it. It is just a great opportunity for me to getehind the wheel of a bigger, faster, race car this season and expand my experience and knowledge for not only this one race, but the future of my career."

Team owner Paul Gentilozzi looks forward to the Long Beach weekend. "I am very excited about our driver lineup for Long Beach, and being able to run a two-car program for this great event", stated Gentilozzi.

"It will be one to remember, and we are going to give it our all to put on a great show for all the Champ Car fans in not only Long Beach, but all over the world. It is will be a bittersweet time during this race weekend, as a long tradition of amazing Champ Car competition comes to an end, it is also the start of a new era for open-wheel racing in the United States. It is just an honor to be a part of such a historical event, run two great drivers, and showcase Champ Car’s great product one more time as a ‘thank you’ to all our supporters over the years."

The 34th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will kick-off April 18th. The three-day event will include the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, the American Le Mans Series, SPEED GT, Atlantic and Formula Drift events, with the final Champ Car on Sunday, April 20 at 1:00 p.m. local time. Tune into all the Champ Car race action on ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. ET.

For more information, visit www.gplb.com or www.rocketsportsracing.com

ABOUT ROCKETSPORTS RACING

Based in East Lansing, Michigan, Rocketsports Racing was formed in 1985 and has grown into one of the most diverse and accomplished companies of its kind in North America.

The Rocketsports name has long been associated with multiple victories in Trans-Am, IMSA, GTO and GTS Competition, for team owner and five-time Trans-Am Series Champion, Paul Gentilozzi. Rocketsports has also established a significant presence in the open-wheel scene with an effort in the Champ Car World Series. In addition to their success on track, Rocketsports has become a leader in race engine and chassis design and construction.  

- Heather Haupt-

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08.04.2008 / MaP

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