The last few race seats have been filled for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Stefan Wilson, Oriol Servia and Townsend Bell have all been confirmed as one-off drivers for the historic event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29.
Wilson, the younger brother of late Verizon IndyCar Series driver Stefan Wilson, was announced Wednesday as the second driver for KVSH Racing at the Indianapolis 500. KVSH currently fields the No. 11 entry for Sebastien Bourdais. Fans can watch the press conference confirming Wilson’s addition to the team by using the media player included with this article.
After much debate it’s veteran racer Oriol Servia who will pilot the extra car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in conjunction with Marotti Racing. Servia was confirmed as the second SPM driver through a conference call with reporters on Monday, and had a few things to tell reporters including IndyCar Examiner about getting the nod for the No. 77.
“The Indy 500 is the race, is the one race we all want to win, is the most emblematic race on the planet,” Servia said, “and if that wasn’t enough, it happens to be the 100th anniversary. So I couldn’t be more excited.
“I had great races in the past at this little place, and it’s coming at a point in my career that I feel the most prepared,” he continued. “So I couldn’t be happier. I also couldn’t be happier to join Sam’s team and organization… I know they’re going to give me probably the best shot I could have in a one-race entry program.”
Servia was most recently seen as the substitute driver for Team Penske when Will Power was unable to start the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg due to illness. He was chosen over 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Brian Vickers, who had been interested in the open-wheel seat.
But Vickers’ status as the fill-in driver for Tony Stewart – who has since returned to NASCAR this past weekend at Richmond – was one of the factors that prohibited him from getting the drive.
“There were a couple conversations [with Vickers], mainly stemming from me running into him at the Vegas Cup race,” said team owner Sam Schmidt. “Talked to him, talked to his people, talked to Mr. [Rick] Hendrick, and ultimately, after real discussion, it just kind of got tabled because A) there was some uncertainty as to when Tony was going to come back…and B) it was mainly the lack of experience.
“I think Brian was up to do it. I think he’d be a great talent to do it,” Schmidt continued. “But given that it is the 100th and the magnitude of everything, we really wanted to put the best foot forward we could in the third car and not have it be a distraction, but have it be a positive contribution for a result. I don’t think we could have wound up with a better driver to fit that bill.”
Andretti Autosport rounded out its roster earlier this month by selecting former IndyCar driver Townsend Bell to drive its fourth entry at the 500. Bell currently serves as part of NBC Sports Network’s IndyCar broadcast team. He also continues to drive elsewhere, most notably on the sportscar circuit.
The moves leave several drivers on the outside looking in. Most notably Chaves, who lost his seat at Bryan Herta Autosport just before the 2016 season began and tested for SPM as an emergency replacement for Mikhail Aleshin, looks as if he’ll be absent from IndyCar entirely this season unless other Indy-only seats get added at the last minute. But as it stands there don’t appear to be any further openings to drive the biggest race on the schedule – which is also usually the only chance drivers have at getting into a car if they’re not IndyCar regulars.
Still, the news of Wilson returning to the IndyCar fold should warm the hearts of many fans who know his talent and may still be mourning the loss of his late brother, while Servia and Bell are experienced – if not necessarily surprising – additions to a competitive field. The 100th Indianapolis 500 should be every bit as big a race to watch as the months of hype and advertising are building it up to be.
For more on the Verizon IndyCar Series, visit the league’s website.