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Mutoh, Rice Set to Return to the IZOD IndyCar Series

Hideki Mutoh Photo by IMS PhotoHideki Mutoh will drive the No. 17 Honda Formula Dream AFS/SSM car in the Indy Japan: The Final on the road course at Twin Ring Motegi next week.

Mutoh, a Tokyo native who has made 52 IZOD IndyCar Series starts, will team up with Alex Tagliani, who drives the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

"I am really looking forward to working with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Motegi," said Mutoh, who has competed in Super GT this year. "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."

Mutoh, the 2008 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, has a high finish of second at Iowa Speedway in two seasons with then-Andretti Green Racing. He produced eight top-10 finishes in 17 races in 2009. Last year, he competed in all 17 events with Newman/Haas Racing. Mutoh was the Firestone Indy Lights championship runner-up in 2007.

The No. 17 car is a joint entry between SSM and AFS Racing, which is owned by Gary Petersen. Martin Plowman drove the car to 12th- and 11th-place finishes in the past two events -- on the Infineon Raceway road course and the Baltimore street circuit.

"I'm thrilled we're able to give Hideki Mutoh the opportunity to get into an IndyCar this season," Schmidt said. "After showing so much promise in the series last season, and being able to compete at a circuit he has experience at, I can't wait to see what he can do on the road course at Motegi."

Buddy Rice Photo by IMS PhotoBuddy Rice will return to Panther Racing in the No. 44 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka entry for the IZOD IndyCar Series races at Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion ended a two-plus-year series hiatus in May, making his first career start for Panther in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 (qualified seventh; finished 18th). He will team with JR Hildebrand, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader, who drives the No. 4 National Guard car.

"Everybody at Panther is extremely excited to have Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka and a champion like Buddy Rice back with us for the last two races of the season," team managing partner and CEO John Barnes said. "Those guys bring so much to this team and we owe Buddy and Fuzzy's Vodka a ton of credit for the success we had this year at Indianapolis, and we feel we've put together a race-winning package for both Kentucky and Las Vegas.

"Buddy worked so well with JR in May and I'm glad they'll get the opportunity to work together again because I can't ever remember a pair of teammates working together as well as those two did at Indianapolis."

The IZOD INDYCAR World Championship on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be Rice's 100th IZOD IndyCar Series start. The Phoenix resident has three victories and was a career-high third in the championship standings in '04.

"I'm just excited to be back at Panther Racing and thankful that Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka has made it possible for us to run some more races together," Rice said. "Like I said before we ran Indianapolis, I've had a lot of chances to get back into IndyCar but at Panther we know we've got a package together that can win races.

"I know Panther was really strong at Kentucky last year (Ed Carpenter earning the pole position and finishing second) and they've got one of the best oval programs in the series, so I know JR and I can work together to get these cars towards the front. I'm thankful to John Barnes and Fuzzy's Vodka for giving me this opportunity and I'm excited to get back out there."

The Kentucky Indy 300 is Oct. 2 (2 p.m. ET on VERSUS; 6:30 ET on TSN2). The IZOD INDYCAR will be broadcast live on ABC at 3 p.m.; 4 p.m. on TSN2.

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