Rocketsports signs French teen Philippe

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- And people think there are young guns in NASCAR.

Rocketsports Racing has signed 17-year-old Nelson Philippe to compete in the 2004 Champ Car World Series. The French teenager will become the youngest driver to run Champ Cars.

Philippe competed in the Barber Dodge Pro Series last season, finishing 11th in points.

"We have been in talks with several teams, but Rocketsports with team owner Paul Gentilozzi was the most appealing," said Philippe. "Paul has an impressive racing record of his own and his professional approach to racing was a very important element to me. I feel privileged to be part of the team.

Philippe, a Miami resident, will be teamed with Canadian Alex Tagliani in Rocketsports' two-car effort in 2004. Tagliani finished 10th in points last season.

"Alex is someone I respect a lot for his achievements and I am looking forward to learning as much as I can from his extensive experience in racing," Philippe said of Tagliani, who is changing his car number from 33 to the No. 8 this season.

Team owner Paul Gentilozzi, one of the OWRS principals behind the acquisition of the Champ Car series from CART, said the team has been following Philippe's career and monitoring his test sessions.

"When we got in touch with him we were impressed by his personality, which fits with our team philosophy, and we were glad to be able to sign him," said Gentilozzi. "We now have a very competitive lineup for this season, with Alex, who will be competing for regular podium positions, and Nelson, who can aim for a top-three finish in the rookie standings," said Gentilozzi.