Engines are quiet but Indy 500 drivers stay busy

Since the hectic final half hour of qualifying last Sunday for Bump Day, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has gone quiet. Despite not being on track, drivers and teams have not had much down time. On Monday, drivers and the Borg-Warner trophy ...

Since the hectic final half hour of qualifying last Sunday for Bump Day, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has gone quiet. Despite not being on track, drivers and teams have not had much down time.

On Monday, drivers and the Borg-Warner trophy embarked on their fourth consecutive trip to New York for a media luncheon and photo shoot. The thrill is there for some but for others it is just another stop on the circus of media requests and demands.

"It's a really long month to be honest," Ryan Hunter-Reay offered at Tuesday's American Dairy Association fastest rookie luncheon. "I'd been to New York before but not like this. I'm used to just hopping in the car, practicing, qualifying and racing. This is new for me."

Hunter-Reay was one of eleven first-timers speaking at the luncheon, a substantial upgrade from the two last year. A tad ironic of course because most of the rookies here to the Speedway are far from "rookies"; Hunter- Reay of course won a pair of Champ Car races and last year's series rookie- of-the-year honors despite only running six races.

The toast of the 34th annual event was Andretti Green Racing's Hideki Mutoh, who joined all three of his teammates (and team owner Michael Andretti, for that matter) in winning the fastest rookie award. No small feat considering the number of freshmen here this year.

In a short but sweet acceptance address, Mutoh admitted the astonishment of winning the award and equaling his teammates' accomplishments. "This year, I'm an IndyCar Series driver and racing in the Indy 500 is like a dream come true," he said. "Receiving this fastest rookie award is a great surprise."

The series Mutoh graduated from, Indy Lights, takes center stage the next two days on track. IndyCar's training ground features nine of its alumni racing in this year's '500, and those hoping to make the next step have started arriving at the Speedway.

Looking to make an impression in a one-off opportunity this weekend is Mike Potekhen, driving for Steve Eppard and SWE Racing in a second car, with help and support from former IndyCar Series team owner Tom Chastain.

Potekhen has found it difficult to embrace racing this year as his deal fell apart late into the off-season. "I felt like I was in the car every week," Potekhen said of his 15 or so days of testing. "I've watched a little (of this season's racing) but I turned away from it when my former team stopped competing. It's not much fun to be at a racetrack if you're not in the car."

He hasn't won before in a season and a half of competition, but Potekhen looks to be in contention in the deeply-competitive 27-car field. There have already been four winners from the prior four Indy lights races this year.

Also making his season debut here, in what is also his first ever start, is New Zealand's Jonny Reid for Integra Motorsports. Over the winter in A1GP, the talented driver piloted his national entry to second place overall. Reid will drive for Integra for the balance of the season.

"There are more opportunities in the States to become a professional driver," Reid said of his opportunity. "I'm up for a challenge, as I have a lot to learn on ovals. I'm keen to do it, though."

The Lights drivers arrived on a busy day at the track. Today was Community Day, providing a rare chance for fans to take their personal vehicles on track and tour the Timing and Scoring booth, Gasoline Alley garages, pit lane, and suites.

The usually exclusive access to such areas should provide the fans with a wealth of memories for years to come. One such example here was a family who had just moved to Indianapolis from near Fontana, CA, and was taking in the occasion during their first '500 experience.

To boot, there was a plethora of historic cars that have graced the Speedway down on pit lane. The field included among others, a 1992 Penske PC22 chassis, the last driven by the great Rick Mears, an old Peter Revson McLaren-Offy from 1972, and the first of four cars wheeled by A.J. Foyt to victory, 1961's Trevis-Offy.

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Series INDYCAR