Rahal Letterman Racing is preparing to announce that Indy Pro Series veteran Jeff Simmons will replace the late Paul Dana in the No. 17 Ethanol Honda/Panoz for the rest of the 2006 IndyCar season, ESPN.com has learned.
Team owner Bobby Rahal was unavailable for comment. The three-time CART National Champion and winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500 is in China watching his son, Graham, participate in the A1GP race at the Shanghai circuit.
"Plans for the Ethanol car are undecided at this time," stated Ray Leto, acting general manager of Rahal Letterman Racing. "Bobby is out of the country this week, but he has been conferring with the sponsor and making progress on a replacement driver. We expect to finalize matters when Bobby returns early next week."
The Rahal Letterman team and officials from the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) may use the occasion of a previously scheduled press conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday at 10 a.m. to announce the signing. The press briefing was intended to discuss the 10-percent ethanol fuel blend being used in the Indy Racing League this year prior to a planned switch to 100-percent ethanol in 2007.
The Speedway is hosting media days to promote the 90th Indianapolis 500 on April 4 and 5. Assuming RLR announces Simmons as Dana's replacement on Tuesday, he could participate in on-track testing with the team at IMS on Wednesday and make his official debut at Motegi, Japan, on April 22.
Simmons, a 29-year-old native of Hartford, Conn., followed his brother Chris into motor racing and was the Barber Dodge Pro Series champion in 1998 and '99. He is also the most successful driver in the history of the Indy Pro Series (the IRL's developmental formula that features 450-horsepower open-wheel cars made by Dallara) with seven race wins and 20 podium finishes. He finished second in the IPS championship standings in 2003 and '05.
Simmons has also made two IndyCar Series starts and was unlucky not to finish in the top 10 in his IRL debut in the 2004 Indianapolis 500 while driving for Mo Nunn Racing.
Chris Simmons, who competed in the defunct Indy Lights series, is still involved in open-wheel racing as a race engineer for Andretti Green Racing.
Dana, who died in an accident March 26 while practicing for the IndyCar season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was instrumental in working with EPIC to create the innovative Ethanol sponsorship campaign. EPIC officials are expected to approve Simmons' nomination on a Monday teleconference.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.