The young Japanese driver that showed so much promise in 2007 in the Firestone Indy Lights series and as an Andretti Autosport driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2008 and 2009, ran what was thought to be his final season in lack-luster fashion with Newman-Haas Racing in 2010. After the 2010 IndyCar season, he returned to Japan to run in the 2011 SuperGT Championship, driving a Honda HSV-010 GT for Autobacs Racing Team Aguri. Now he’s set to return for an encore appearence in the IZOD IndyCar Series with Sam Schmidt Motorsports and AFS Racing to drive the #17 Honda Formula Dream car at Motegi.
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Mutoh struggled in 2010 with an underfunded program and under-performing car at Newman-Haas. Since leaving Indy car racing and returning to Japan to race GT cars in Super GT’s GT500 class, his situation has not significantly improved. Mutoh and his teammate, Takashi Kobayashi, currently sit in 14th place in the championship out of 15 teams. Getting to drive the SSM/AFS car that Martin Plowman has so recently put in P12 and P11 at Infineon and Baltimore, respectively, has to a huge motivator for Hideki. SSM and their primary driver, Alex Tagliani in the #77 Bowers & Wilkins car, have shown that their equipment is very capable of running at highly competitive speeds. Combine that with the fact that Hideki is already very familiar with the Motegi road course while most of the other drivers will be behind on the learning curve, and you have a situation in which Hideki has the potential to have a very strong race.
“I am really looking forward to working with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Motegi,” said Mutoh, who has made three career IndyCar starts on the oval at Twin Ring Motegi with a best finish of 11th in 2008. “Though this is only one race, it means a lot to me to be able to race in front of my home crowd again. This has been a tough year for Japan and I hope we can bring some excitement to the many fans. I am determined to do well and put up a strong performance for the team. It will also help having Alex Tagliani as a teammate and I really cannot wait to get started.” — Hideki Mutoh, #17 AFS Racing/Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Will a good performance at Motegi be enough to bring Mutoh back to Indy car racing? I doubt it, but I still have my AGR #27 autographed hat, and will be wearing it proudly on September 17th, and hoping for good things to come in 2012.