INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Bobby Rahal just wanted to get back into IndyCar racing.

Welcome home, champ.

After missing the season’s first three races because of a lack of sponsorship money, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner announced Wednesday he has completed a one-race deal to put veteran Spanish driver Oriol Servia in the cockpit of his No. 17 car for this year’s 500.

“Obviously, we’re pleased that we could be back at least for the 500,” Rahal said in a telephone interview. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, we’ve got a good driver and we’ve got good people on the team. But we have a lot to think about.”

For Rahal, it’s a small victory.

His team, Rahal Letterman Racing, lost its primary sponsor after last season when an American ethanol company decided to pull out of the series.

Rahal had to search for new sponsorship in one of the nation’s deepest recessions in decades. When the money didn’t come through, Rahal put his IndyCar plans on hold though his team kept working on the car.

Now all that patience and diligence has – finally – paid off.

On Friday, Rahal said he was closing in on a deal with a first-time racing sponsor. On Wednesday, it became official. DAFCA, a company that provides security against cyber terrorism and counterfeiting, jumped on board, giving Rahal an opportunity to make the May 24 race while he looks for even stronger deals in the future.

“We certainly missed competing in this series, and we’re working hard for 2010,” Rahal said. “I think this series has never been better.”

Rahal, who also won the 2004 race as an owner with Buddy Rice, hopes to have Servia in the car Thursday when practice resumes at the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Twenty-two of the 33 starting spots were filled during the first two days of qualifying last weekend. That means Servia has two more days to qualify, with a maximum of three attempts each day, for one of the remaining 11 open spots.

Servia has a wealth of experience.

He competed in Formula 3 in 1996 and 1997, then moved to the CART Indy Lights series in 1998 and 1999. He spent the next eight years driving on the now defunct Champ Car circuit, and last year, his first in IndyCars, produced four top-five finishes and six in the top 10.

In his first Indy start last year, he qualified 25th and finished 11th, and his results prompted Rahal to line up Servia even before the deal was finished.

“He is a darn good driver and we’ve always held him in high esteem,” Rahal said. “I think last year, he really outperformed (Will) Power. Oriol is a heck of a driver, and that’s one of the reasons we worked as hard as we did to get this done.”

Servia’s mission, however, is challenging.

He has not competed in any IndyCar races this season. There are still 12 driver-combinations still not qualified for the race, and speculation has persisted there could be a couple of more deals cut before qualifying resumes Saturday.

If that happens, several cars may not make 11-row, 3-car starting grid.

Servia does not expect to go home early.

“I feel I am at the top of my game,” he said in a statement. “I have raced many years against the Rahal Letterman team, and it makes me very proud to be finally part of it. I am sure that together our focused efforts will make a very successful experience.”

But for Rahal, just being o track in America’s biggest open-wheel series, even for one race, may prove to be the jump start his team needed.

“It’s not like we’re coming in with a bunch of novices,” he said. “We’ve been there all week, sniffing around and observing, watching preparing for this week. I think this deal really shows the strength of this race.”

AP-ES-05-13-09 1701EDT

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