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Large rookie class headed to Indianapolis
Only eight rookies have ever won the Indianapolis 500 – and that includes Ray Harroun, who won the inaugural race in 1911. This year, 13 rookies, the most since 1997, will attempt to add their name to the list that includes Graham Hill, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves.
The rookie class for the 92nd Indianapolis 500 will take its first laps around the 2.5-mile speedway May 4-5 when they must complete the Rookie Orientation Program, a set of four phases of 10 laps each at increasing speeds.
The rookie class is diverse, featuring drivers who have won at the track in Firestone Indy Lights, drivers who competed on the track’s road course in Formula One, and several drivers who will be on the grounds for the first time. There’s also Graham Rahal, whose father Bobby won the 500 three years before the 19-year-old was born.
Jaime Camara, Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd and Hideki Mutoh competed at Indianapolis in Firestone Indy Lights, lapping the oval at 190 mph vs. the 225 mph of an IndyCar Series car. Camara won the Freedom 100 in 2005 and finished third twice. Lloyd won in 2007 while Mutoh finished fifth. Howard finished second in 2006.
“Last year was my first time to see the Indy 500 in person,” said Mutoh, who has three top-10 finishes to start his IndyCar Series career. “That was so amazing, unbelievable. I’ve never raced in front of a crowd like that before. It’s very exciting for me, even more than racing in Japan a couple of weeks ago.”
“It’s obviously something I’ve been looking forward for a long time,” Howard said. “The first 500 I went to, I was sitting in the grandstands. The hair stands up on your arms, you get goose pimples. You can’t explain to anyone what it’s like, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like actually sitting in the car racing. It’s definitely going to be a nice, new experience for me.”
For Enrique Bernoldi and Justin Wilson, who competed on the road course with Formula One, they’ve driven portions of the oval before – in the opposite direction.
“There was a great deal of anticipation of going there and seeing the place,” said Wilson, who finished eighth in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2003. “You’ve heard so many things about it, you want to go and see it for yourself. You don’t realize how big everything is until you get there. That pit complex, the size of the grandstands – it’s like two walls on either side of the track. It was interesting to see it.
“This year, it’s a different deal altogether just because of the history behind the 500. It’s a lot of anticipation and hope that we can do well. We just want to go there and get used to it. I’ve heard people say that it’s basically four fast corners rather than an oval.”
The rookies, along with three drivers taking refresher courses, will have two days of practice to learn the intricacies of four different corners before the track opens to all drivers May 6.
“Going down to Turn 1 flat out and seeing Turn 1, from what I’ve been told, all you can see is the outside wall and you’re driving straight at it, and at the last minute you throw it into the corner,” Wilson said. “It’s just getting the confidence to turn in flat out or nearly flat out. It’s going to take a little bit of time. You don’t want to wreck the car. That’s always the balance you’re trying to trade off. You want to get up to speed, but you want to make sure if something happens you’re within your limits. You don’t want it to catch you out. That’s going to be the key – how fast you can get up to speed, but knowing that if the back steps out, you’re in control.”
The better they can master that kind of control, the better the odds that one of these rookies can drive to Victory Lane on May 25.
Indianapolis 500 Rookies
Oriol Servia – KV Racing Technology
Will Power – KV Racing Technology
Alex Lloyd – Rahal Letterman Racing
Ryan Hunter-Reay – Rahal Letterman Racing
Mario Moraes – Dale Coyne Racing
Jay Howard – Roth Racing
Hideki Mutoh – Andretti Green Racing
E.J. Viso – HVM Racing
Jaime Camara – Conquest Racing
Enrique Bernoldi – Conquest Racing
Mario Dominguez – Pacific Coast Motorsports
Justin Wilson – Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
Graham Rahal – Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
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