Vergne joins Ferrari as a test driver

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So last week, ex-Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne was all signed up with Andretti Autosport’s FIA Formula E program, which, coupled with his public declaration that he was seeking an IndyCar ride led me (and I’m sure others) to think he could be considered for Andretti’s currently vacant fourth IndyCar seat.

Then comes today’s news, “out of the bleu” as my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith called it, that “JEV” is turning red instead.

The Frenchman has signed with Scuderia Ferrari as a test and development driver, and will replace Pedro de la Rosa as part of Ferrari’s reserve arsenal. He’ll primarily do simulator work.

Vergne is the second driver from the 2014 grid to have landed with Ferrari even in spite of not having a race seat. Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez – and sponsor Telmex – both signed with Ferrari earlier this week.

“The objective is a unanimous one and that is to help the Scuderia get back to the top step of the podium,” Vergne said in a team release. “Having had two years working in the simulator for a top F1 team and three years racing with Toro Rosso, my experience will add to the great efforts that are currently being made in order to get the team back to its winning ways. I look forward to fulfilling my dream in becoming a member of Scuderia Ferrari and having the tifosi behind me every step of the way.”

Potentially, either driver could be in the frame for a Ferrari-powered race seat with the new Haas F1 Team in 2016, if either is looking longer-term.

On the whole, though, Ferrari now suddenly has a glut of drivers in its stable.

Sebastian Vettel takes up residence alongside Kimi Raikkonen as one of the two race drivers. Gutierrez and Vergne are on the bench as reserve and test/development drivers, respectively.

Then, as our NBC Sports Group F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton notes, Ferrari Academy drivers Raffaele Marciello and Antonio Fuoco, longer-term but talented young prospects, fall even further down the depth chart.

Lastly I can’t help but think of Jules Bianchi at this moment. Bianchi was Ferrari’s star prospect in waiting but as he’s recovering in France from his severe injuries occurred at Suzuka; now, he’s in a fight for his life, rather than a race seat.

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.