Mutoh Passes Rookie Test

Just days after collecting a dramatic Indy Pro Series victory at Kentucky Speedway, Super Aguri Panther driver Hideki Mutoh passed his IndyCar Series rookie test at Chicagoland Speedway and is officially set for his league debut in the final race of the season, on September 9th in Joliet.

Mutoh joined Panther veteran Vitor Meira at Chicagoland during a test Tuesday and Wednesday, and impressed team officials with his consistency and ability to grasp the changes of an IndyCar Series machine. Hideki will join current Panther drivers Meira and Kosuke Matsuura to form a three-car effort for the season’s final race. Mutoh will drive the No. 60 Formula Dream Panther Dallara Honda.

"It was a very productive two days and I was able to pass the rookie test," Mutoh said. "I was able to learn how the changes affect the car and tried different car balances too. I am very happy that we were able to practice pit stops and I now know what it's like. I enjoyed the test and I cannot wait for the Chicagoland race."

Mutoh has adapted well to the American open-wheel scene this year, and his Kentucky victory last Saturday night was his first career win on an oval track. Mutoh made a three-wide pass on Indy Pro Series veterans Alex Lloyd and Wade Cunningham on the final lap of the race to collect his second career victory.

Team owner John Barnes, who has developed young IndyCar Series talent before – including former series and Indy 500 champions Sam Hornish Jr. and Dan Wheldon – was especially impressed by his Japanese driver.

"Hideki did unbelievably well in the test," Barnes said. "He continues to impress everybody at Panther with his ability to adapt to these race cars and our style of open-wheel racing. We tested a lot with him over the two days at Chicagoland. He didn’t get to run in traffic, because there wasn’t any, but we worked on pit stops, starts, restarts and in- and out-laps. We’re training him to be a champion, and that takes a lot more than just going fast. I know he’s excited, and we are too, about the opportunity to see him run an IndyCar Series race at Chicagoland."

IndyCar Series Technical Director Kevin "Rocket" Blanch, a former Chief Mechanic with Panther Racing during its 2001 and 2002 championship seasons, was equally impressed with Mutoh.

"Hideki is one of the most talented young drivers I have seen in a while," Blanch, who supervised the test for the league, said. "He’s had the opportunity to drive the IndyCar Series car several times this season due to the bonus testing program. He’s very consistent and provides very good feedback. He should do very well."

Currently ranked second in the Indy Pro Series championship, Mutoh trails Lloyd, the current points leader, by 98 points. In 13 starts this season, Mutoh has seven podiums, 10 Top Five and 12 Top Ten finishes. His first victory of the year came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he started from the pole and dominated the first race of the Liberty Challenge, held during Formula One weekend.

He has also tested at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Kentucky Speedway in an IndyCar Series machine. Last season he competed in the Formula Nippon Championship and the Super GT Championship, where he started from pole and won his final event at Fuji Speedway. Prior to 2006, Hideki raced in the Japanese Formula 3 Championship and was the 2003 Formula Dream champion.

The race at Chicagoland Speedway will be held on Sunday, September 9th at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ABC with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network and XM Satellite Radio Channels 144 and 145.

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