Who is Luca Filippi?

I hadn’t heard of Luca Filippi until early Monday morning, when I perused Robin Miller’s admittedly un-objective piece on why IndyCar fan favorite Sarah Fisher and her driver, Firestone Indy Lights champ Josef Newgarden, didn’t have an engine contract yet.

The tail end of the article mentioned Filippi in the hunt for Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s second drive alongside Takuma Sato, but that if Filippi couldn’t land it, then Fisher could wind up with RLL’s Honda engine. The story ended like this:

“As it stands right now, the popular Indy car loyalist [Fisher] whose team was the feel good story of 2011 and hired a young American star for 2012 [Newgarden] may get to play if some Italian [Filippi] none of us have ever seen can’t write a check. What a show of appreciation. What a travesty. What a sad a– way to do business.”

Well, after that flourish, you could consider my interest piqued. After all, how many people read Miller’s piece and instantly decided that Filippi was yet another sub-standard European driver with a fat wallet? Not exactly a great first impression for the Italian, and he had nothing to do with it!

So let’s take a look at Filippi’s body of work and see if there’s some good potential there. Filippi has raced the last five seasons in Formula One’s main feeder league: The GP2 series. He holds the most starts ever in GP2 with 107 and has come away with five race wins.

In addition, he comes off a second place showing in last year’s GP2 title race, winning events at the Nurburgring, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza along the way; the guy he lost the title to, French racer Romain Grosjean, is now with Lotus’ F1 operation. Filippi has also earned F1 tests with the former Honda and Super Aguri teams in his career.

He may no longer be on the Grand Prix radar, but as you can see, Filippi isn’t the least talented young driver to ever cross the pond. The anger over Fisher and Newgarden’s predicament may be justified, but it seems rather pointless (at least to me) to castigate him over the matter before he’s even turned a wheel. Besides, we don’t even know if he’ll get the chance to do that in IndyCar yet.

In any case, Filippi was present on Monday at Barber Motorsports Park, where all five Honda squads (including RLL) began their two-day test session. Chevrolet-powered drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power of Team Penske are also testing at the Alabama road course.

The Birmingham News has a story and photo gallery from the first day of action.