Dreams come true for Indy 500 rookies
Though four rookies competed in the first three IndyCar Series events of the season, those races were akin to dipping their feet into the water. Now, they’re about to take the plunge.
On May 5, Stanton Barrett, Mike Conway, Robert Doornbos and Raphael Matos will begin preparations for the 2009 Indianapolis 500, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Despite their different racing backgrounds, competing in the Indianapolis 500 has always been the ultimate goal.
Barrett, a native Californian, was hooked on the ‘500’ even before he started racing as a teenager.
“I got to go there a couple of times and watch the race before I started racing,” Barrett said. “In the ’80s and ’90s, when I wasn’t in racing yet and watching it from a fan standpoint, that was the race to watch. I remember you always wanted to know who won.”
Barrett’s racing career took him to stock cars, however, where he made almost 200 starts between the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series.
“The Indy 500 is at the top of any kid’s list,” Barrett said. “Even a lot of the NASCAR guys would love to. When they found out I was going to run the Indy 500, they were like, ‘Man, I want to go to the Indy 500 and watch you.’ ‘I’ve always wanted to run the Indy 500.’ I think it’s a race no matter what kind of racing you’re in all those guys would want to race that race.”
Conway and Doornbos grew up in Europe where Formula One is king, but both kept their eyes on the Indianapolis 500.
“(The Indianapolis 500) is very popular in Europe,” said Doornbos, a native of Rotterdam, Netherlands. “Many people know the race. A lot of people in Holland are proud that they have another Dutch guy there. If I can only do the same as what (two-time winner) Arie (Luyendyk) did, I will be very happy.
“You grow up with Formula One, so that was my dream, my target. To achieve that was great, but you kept an eye on the other part of the ocean, because you knew that they were racing at high speeds on ovals, extremely high speeds. You don’t even do that in a Formula One car. I have to be honest, racing in the Indianapolis 500 is another boy’s dream come true. I’ve been there with F1, drove the other way around, but you don’t experience the same sense of what it’s like. All the drivers who have been there many years keep telling me that it will be the best I’ve ever experienced, and it still surprises them every year.”
Conway, who grew up in England, echoed those sentiments.
“When (Dan) Wheldon won it and Dario (Franchitti), that was massive. It was big news back in the U.K.,” Conway said. “I suppose I won’t really appreciate how big it is until I get there and experience it myself. I can’t wait.”
For Matos, who competed in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year, the Indianapolis 500 will be an emotional experience.
“It means a lot,” the Brazilian said. “Since I was 7 years old, the Indy 500 was always the day my father and I would sit down in front of the TV and watch the race together. For me, it’s a huge not only accomplishment, but also emotional time.
“I’m going to try and put that part behind us, the emotional part, and try to get the job done. It’s an unbelievable feeling for us, the whole team, and I think we’ll be very competitive there.”
The four drivers and Indy-only rookie Nelson Philippe will participate in the Rookie Orientation Program May 5-6 before practice opens for all drivers on the afternoon of May 6. Their first chance to make a big impression will come May 9 on Pole Day when the fastest 11 drivers lock in starting positions in the 33-car field.