Rookie Orientation Program is first step to qualifying for '500'
At least seven drivers with aspirations of competing in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 begin their journey May 12 with the mandatory Rookie Orientation Program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. (ET) session is open to spectators free of charge in the South Terrace Grandstands. Spectators should enter through Gate 2 on 16th Street. Opening Day is May 14, with all-car practice from noon-6 p.m. (ET).
Scheduled to participate are IZOD IndyCar Series regulars JR Hildebrand (National Guard Panther Racing), James Hinchcliffe (Newman/Haas Racing), James Jakes (Dale Coyne Racing) and Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing), plus Ho-Pin Tung (Schmidt Dragon Racing), Pippa Mann (Conquest Racing) and Jay Howard (Service Central Schmidt-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing).
"Instead of having it embedded in the practice days, it's nice to move it out before the activities actually begin by a couple of days," said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for INDYCAR. "I think it provides a better atmosphere for the rookies to get familiar with the racetrack to run through their phases in a less time-restrained and a less pressurized situation."
The evaluation program consists of turning 10 consistent laps at four speed phases on the 2.5-mile asphalt oval: 200-205 mph, 205-210, 210-215 and 215 or more. Barnhart expects drivers to complete at least three phases during the session.
"They'll get about six hours on track, which is ample time to get through a minimum of three phases, and then they can complete the fourth phase then at any time during the week of practice prior to qualifications," he said. "That's easy enough to do because the fourth phase is anything at speed so they're able to be at speed with other traffic out there and not be trying to run phases while other people are running different speeds."
IZOD IndyCar Series teams picked up their equipment May 4 from the street race in Sao Paulo, Brazil, earlier this week. Four Indy 500 rookies competed in that event, with Hinchcliffe and Hildebrand posting top-10 finishes.
"By running the 12th it gives everybody another three days to prepare the cars, move in and do the ROP at their pace," Barnhart added. "When we open on Saturday, it will be for all cars at all times."
Five of the drivers have competed at the Speedway in the 40-lap Firestone Freedom 100 on Carb Day, with Mann the pole sitter for the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights race. Kimball was the race runner-up and Hinchcliffe finished third. In 2009, Hildebrand recorded a second-place finish on his way to the series title, and Howard finished fourth. Howard was the runner-up in '06 during his championship season.
Davey Hamilton, who participated in ROP in 1996 with A.J. Foyt Copenhagen Racing, offered a few cautionary words for the professional race car drivers.
"I think the biggest thing is you have to respect that racetrack," said Hamilton, who will attempt to qualify for his 11th Indy 500 in a Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car. "Some days you go out there and it's so intimidating and other days you think it's easy. But you have to remember the speeds you're going and how technical the track really is.
"It's good to be with a team that's been there so they can give a lot of advice. Ask questions and don't ever take it for granted because it can bite you. It does it to the veterans. For a rookie it's one step at a time and don't overdue it."