By TALES AZZONI, Associated Press
SAO PAULO (AP) — Rubens Barrichello is bringing his Formula One experience to IndyCar in 2012, and the veteran Brazilian driver can't wait to start his rookie season in the series.
After 19 years and a record 325 races in F1, the 39-year-old Barrichello announced Thursday he has joined KV Racing Technology on a one-year contract. He will make his IndyCar debut at the season opener on March 25 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I'm loving the idea I'm going to be a rookie," he said. "That makes me young, and I'm loving that."
Barrichello will participate in all 16 IndyCar races on the calendar, including the Indy 500 in May and the other four races on ovals.
"I am thrilled, it is something very new to me," he said. "I'm very competitive and I'm not doing this just for fun, but I'll keep my feet on the ground in the beginning because I'll be a rookie despite of all my previous racing experience."
Barrichello is the biggest name to move to an American-based open-wheel series since F1 champion Nigel Mansell joined CART in 1993. Mansell won five races and the series title that season. Barrichello finished second in the F1 drivers' championship in 2002 and 2004, both times behind seven-time champion Michael Schumacher of Ferrari.
"This wasn't expected at all at first," Barrichello said. "But it kind of evolved after the first test, and now I'm really happy to be starting this new phase in my life."
KV Racing co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser also were at Thursday's news conference to announce the deal, along with new teammate and old friend Tony Kanaan. E.J. Viso of Venezuela will be the team's other driver this season.
"We are kind of pinching ourselves, it's a dream to be bringing Rubens to our team," Vasser said. "We raised our level when we brought Kanaan, and now with Rubens even more. The sky is the limit for our team."
KV Racing announced that Kanaan's contract was extended for another two years. He had been signed by KV Racing just before last season on a one-year deal.
The arrival of a well-recognized name in racing is welcomed by IndyCar, which is trying to revamp its image after ending last season on a low following the death of Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas.
"The entire series will get a boost with Rubinho's presence, it's another great name added to our grid," said three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, a fellow Brazilian. "He will be fighting for the title and the championship will only gain from that."
Izod IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard went to one of Barrichello's test sessions to meet the Brazilian. He said Thursday it was an exciting day for the series "and a positive step to start" the year.
"There's not a person in the world who knows racing that wouldn't tell you that Rubens Barrichello is one of the greatest drivers of all time," he said in a statement. "That will create great competition and expands our international platform."
Barrichello brings with him an ardent fan base — his 1.47 million followers on Twitter is one million more than Kanaan's, who leads all IndyCar drivers with 448,000 followers.
His move to IndyCar had been widely expected after Kanaan invited him to test for KV Racing following the announcement that Barrichello lost his F1 drive with Williams.
The Brazilian drove well again in a later test session and got the invitation to join the team, but the deal wasn't finalized until Barrichello was able to find a few Brazilian sponsors to help pay for his season.
And there was another problem he had to overcome: Barrichello's wife, Silvana, didn't want him racing on ovals. The family plan was to have him race 25 years in Formula 1 and then retire.
"What happened is we were watching an oval race and there was a crash and she looked at me and said 'You are never going to do that, right?'" Barrichello said. "And I told her at the time, 'Of course not, don't worry.'"
He said it took a while to get her on board, but in the end she understood how passionate he was about the idea of continuing his racing career.
Initially, Barrichello thought about racing only at the Indy 500, but realized it wouldn't make sense to skip the other four races on ovals.