INDIANAPOLIS (Saturday, May 11, 2003) - Ninety minutes was all that was necessary for three first-year Indianapolis 500 competitors to complete the three phases of the Rookie Orientation Program on Opening Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"We really economized," Tristan Vautier joked.
Vautier, driving the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, joined AJ Allmendinger and Carlos Munoz in breezing through the session that split full field practice. They were then cleared to join veterans on the 2.5-mile oval for practice building up to Pole Day qualifying on May 18.
Sixteen driver/car combinations turned laps, including three-time Indianapolis 500 Mile Race champion Helio Castroneves setting up Allmendinger's car. Ed Carpenter, winner of the last IZOD IndyCar Series race on a superspeedway, topped the speed chart with a lap of 220.970 mph (40.7296 seconds).
The Rookie Orientation Program is designed to provide first-year drivers an opportunity to get acquainted with the racetrack. The three speed phases, set by INDYCAR based on the weather and track conditions, include 10 laps at 200-205 mph, 15 laps at 205-209 mph and 15 laps at 210 mph-plus.
Conor Daly is expected to begin the process May 13 in the No. 41 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing. Daly had weekend racing commitments in Barcelona, Spain, where he finished third May 11 in the first of two GP3 races.
"It's a busy weekend for me in Barcelona, but the INDYCAR guys have been really good to us in saying we can do it Monday," Daly said. "It's unfortunate that I'll miss the first two days but it's still a lot of track time. I'm just excited to get to work."
Carpenter recorded 21 laps in the No. 20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka car. Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 21T Century 21 car for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, was second quick (220.920 mph; 40.7387 seconds) on a field-high 59 laps and Munoz cranked out a best lap of 220.720 mph in the waning minutes of practice.
Charlie Kimball was fourth (220.633; 40.7917) in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing entry and 2011 Indy 500 pole sitter Alex Tagliani kicked off practice fifth overall with a best lap of 220.248 mph in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing car.
Rookie driver quotes
AJ ALLMENDINGER (No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet): (Does previous experience here help?): "No. No. It just tells me that there are four corners around this racetrack and I have an understanding of what they feel like. Obviously, it's two different race cars. Completely different race cars. The line and just the way the track feels, that I kind of knew, but from there it's a completely different technique of how to get in the corners. You can't hit the brake pedal, and you don't want to lift. Trying to get used to that. The first few laps when I was trying to go wide-open, the right foot was quivering. I had to get the left foot to hold it down and say, 'OK, it's time to get used to this.' It was enjoyable."
TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "That was so much faster than an Indy Lights car. It was harder to run slow when they were asking us to stay between the lower speed ranges because it was difficult to judge how much to lift to stay in that segment. It was fun, though. I managed 15 laps at full speed at the end and loved it. Everything happens faster in these cars, and you need to anticipate everything. It's easier to make a mistake, and you have to be on it all the time." (About being coached by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk during ROP): "It was great to have Arie as a coach because he has so much experience here that you know you can trust what he's saying to you. It was very good because he was giving me just enough advice and still letting me work with the team. If I have any more questions over the month, I'll definitely be asking Arie."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 Unistraw Chevrolet): "Today's rookie orientation went really well. I passed all of three of the phases and got some good laps in. It was not that much different than driving in Firestone Indy Lights, but it just took me a few laps to adapt to the track and new No. 26 Unistraw Chevrolet. I'm very happy with today. My teammates James (Hinchcliffe) and Marco (Andretti) supported me throughout each of the phases and gave me some good tips. I feel really good going into the rest of this week's practices, but it's still a long couple weeks, so we just need to take it step by step."
Opening Day quotes
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83T NovoLog FlexPen Honda): "Today was a great start to the month of May. The No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen backup car gave us a good baseline to work from. We made a couple changes, and I think that made a lot of sense. We were able to work around the weather a little bit and work around ROP. The crew has been working really hard, so I think that we're going to try and focus on the rest of the month now and run the primary car. We still have to see where the track is going to grip-up. Right now, there's very little rubber down, and we'll see where we go. Hopefully it's not 60 degrees on Race Day, and it's closer to 80, and we'll be in good shape."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Chevrolet): "It felt really good to be back in the Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet here at Indy, always a special feeling when you take the track for the first time. We were able to shakedown the No. 2 IZOD car for AJ (Allmendinger) and do the same for our car, which is what we wanted to accomplish. AJ did a great job today. It was really fun being a part of the Rookie Orientation process with him, and I look forward to having him as a teammate here."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was a good opening day for the Verizon team. We were able to shakedown the car, and everything feels good. It's obviously a long couple weeks, and we are taking this step by step to be where we need to be for the race."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "There was some things we wanted to try to today regardless of the weather. The weather doesn't look good for Sunday, either. So we ran through a couple of settings that we hadn't done last year. It's still very early in the process. We got what we needed for today. So I am happy with that. We really aren't worried about trying to get a fast lap right now. We certainly want to be competitive, so if we are at the top each day, that will make us happy as we move toward qualifying. We make so many plans coming into the month of May, and we get our competitive juices flowing. You have to try very hard to stay with your plan and not move off of it. It's not even a nice day out here, and I'm very excited to be here and driving on the track. We point so much for this event each year, and our whole team is very anxious to get on the track. Not everyone ran today, but I wanted to get a couple of things done today. Being the team owner, I can make the call when we go out on track. And I felt with Sunday's weather being not as good, we should get in some laps today. My sister reminded me that it's been a decade since I won the (Firestone) Indy Lights race here, the first Freedom 100. That seems crazy, and it seems even crazier that this will hopefully be my 10th '500' start, so I consider myself to be pretty lucky to make so many of these." (On how much he's looking forward to this year after last year's race): "To be honest, when I think back to the last Month of May, we had a good race and a good car in the race, but really I have bad memories from last May. We came into the month unprepared, and we were lucky to get it sorted out by Race Day and have a chance. Even then, we still didn't get a good finish. I think the whole team was really determined to come in prepared this year. They've done that, and I'm really proud of the work they've done this season."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "It's good to be back in Indy and to have A.J. back on the pit stand. Although we are carrying a lot of good momentum coming here, we have to remember that we are starting from square one because the Speedway is so different from the last four events. Today we shook down the No. 14 car, which is a brand-new chassis, so it had zero miles. The team prepared the last four months to building up this beautiful Indy car, and we just went through all the basic procedures. We had a baseline setup to see the effects of the ride-height changes and used all the tools to see how they affect the car. Today was a very easy day, and it was good to get some miles in today and to see all the functions are working."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10, 10T Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "We shook down both the 10 T and the 10 car today. We'll start working on setup and various different things from now on. The guys did a great job today working fast and swapping the engine out of the T car to the primary. Good work today from the Target team."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9, 9T Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Today was a pretty basic day for the Target team. We wanted to shake down the T cars and then move the engine to the primary car in the afternoon. We ran a handful of laps in the afternoon session and started working on our run plan, which will continue tomorrow."
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva KVRT Chevrolet): "It's pretty exciting to get back on track here at Indy. We always look forward to coming here, for us as a team and especially for me personally. Last year was a very long year and a really long month of May. Now to go out there and to feel the speed, it's much more fun. The team has been working really hard on our Nuclear Clean Air Energy Indy car, and I think it should be good. We still have a lot of things to go through, but it was nice to get back in the saddle. We'll keep working hard from today on and hopefully have a really good month."
AJ ALLMENDINGER (No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet): "Oh, I'm a rookie. I feel like it out there. I have to admit, the first lap on the racetrack was pretty special going down the back straightaway and thinking about that I was at Indy preparing for the Indy 500, especially being in a Roger Penske race car. For me, it was pretty cool. I was kind of just thinking about that as I was going down the straightaway. Then I realized that corner comes up really quick, so I should start focusing again. All around for me, I thought it was better than expected. I didn't really know what to expect. I was pretty much making myself nervous and stressing myself out thinking about what was going to happen. You know, I really have to thank Helio (Castroneves) a lot, because for him to shake the car down was one thing. But to be there on the headset talking to me before, during and after; that guy's obviously got a wealth of knowledge and experience at this place. For him to take the time out of the day when he could have been working on his own program or just back at the trailer relaxing, it meant a lot to me. I have to thank him a lot for getting me up to speed pretty quick."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 Unistraw Chevrolet): "It was awesome. My first lap, as AJ said, it was really special. I remembered when I was back in Colombia when (Juan) Montoya won this race. It was really special for me. Right now I'm in the same spot as him at the Indy 500 on a really good team, so that was really special. It was totally different from the Indy Lights. The speed and everything is just more fast. The car reacts different. Each time I was on the track I was feeling stronger and stronger, more confident with the car. I knew what to do. I'm really happy but still a long, long way to go. This is just the beginning."