Conquest Racing made a surprising move today, announcing it had signed Bertrand Baguette to field the second car for the team in the 2010 Izod IndyCar series.
Baguette is expected to make an appearance this weekend at St. Petersburg; however, he will not begin racing until the third race at Barber Motorsports Park in the inaugural Grand Prix of Alabama.
Baguette comes to IndyCar from Formula Renault, where he won the 2009 World Series of Renault in the 3.5-litre engine category. Baguette's 2009 championship win earned him a test with F1 team Renault; however, a deal did not materialize.
Baguette instead was contacted by fellow Belgian and Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart, who offered Baguette the opportunity to join Mario Romancini as a full-time driver in the Izod IndyCar series.
"I am completely confident in the capacities of Bertrand to quickly adapt to the Izod IndyCar Series and the North America road and street circuits," Bachelart said. "Because of his ability to adapt well to a new formula, I am confident that he will also learn the art of oval track racing relatively quickly."
The car will be sponsored by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium, which is the Belgian governing body for motorsports.
"Racing in the U.S. is a fantastic opportunity for me, and I am excited about entering into this next step of my career," Baguette said. "I will carry the yellow color of the Belgian National Team with dignity and pride—especially during the legendary Indianapolis 500."
Baguette's joining the league appears to bring the number of confirmed entries for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 at 31 already. Several more entries are expected from part-time teams, which should push the entry list to its largest in years.
The car count in the league is the healthiest it has been in years; however, there are murmurs from some complaining about the addition of new foreign drivers when experienced North American drivers are still on the sidelines.
The recent trend with teams has been to sign drivers who specialize in road and street courses. Nine of the 17 IndyCar races this year are road or street races—the first time since the inception of the IRL that street and road courses have dominated the schedule.
Several drivers still remain on the sidelines, including Paul Tracy, Ed Carpenter, and Tomas Scheckter. Graham Rahal has a ride with Sarah Fisher Racing for only two races this year, while looking for a larger package.
All drivers are expected at the Indianapolis 500—and they are watching the ratings closely to see how the series performs in the TV markets.
One critical test of those markets will be this weekend, when the series has its North American debut at the Streets of St. Petersburg. Ryan Briscoe won the 2009 race at the same track that saw Rahal enter victory lane in his first IRL race.
The race will air this Sunday on ABC, with coverage starting at 3:30 p.m. EDT.