Indy 500: Opening Day rookie orientation report

TEN DRIVERS PASS INDIANAPOLIS 500 ROOKIE ORIENTATION PROGRAM INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 4, 2008 - Ten drivers completed all four phases of the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the track opened for...

TEN DRIVERS PASS INDIANAPOLIS 500 ROOKIE ORIENTATION PROGRAM

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 4, 2008 - Ten drivers completed all four phases of the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the track opened for the 92nd Running of 500-Mile Race.

Will Power was the quickest among a class of 13 rookies, the most since 1997. The rookies have two days of practice on the historic 2.5-mile oval before the track is opened to all drivers on May 6.

Power's fastest lap in the No. 8 Aussie Vineyard-Team Australia entry was 40.7804 seconds, 220.694 mph.

Eleven rookies and two-time Indianapolis 500 starter Max Papis, who along with Davey Hamilton must complete a refresher test, combined to complete 661 incident-free laps. All Indianapolis 500 rookies must pass a four-phase orientation program, demonstrating consistent car control for 10 laps each at four increasing levels of speed.

Power, Jaime Camara, Jay Howard, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alex Lloyd, Hideki Mutoh, Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia, E.J. Viso and Justin Wilson passed all four phases. Enrique Bernoldi completed three phases and may complete the fourth phase at any point later in the month.

Mario Moraes completed three laps late in the day, while Mario Dominguez did not take the track. Both drivers must complete the first three phases of ROP Monday to remain eligible to compete in the Indianapolis 500 on May 25.

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Entry List update: Davey Hamilton is the driver of the #22 Hewlett-Packard/KR Vision Racing entry.

DAVEY HAMILTON: "You know, I love this place. It's hard to, as a racing driver, get this particular race out of your system. There's a handful of races I love. This is one of them, the Oswego Classic, which I participated in last year and I'll do again, the Copper Classic, which unfortunately is no longer there, they always just stood out as the thrills of my career and I love to do. I'm just fortunate that Hewlett-Packard and Kingdom (Racing) came aboard to allow me to negotiate with Tony (George) to put together a third entry for Vision Racing. It was down to the last minute, it has worked out, we'll be in the car tomorrow and the car looks fantastic. I feel really confident because I think we have a better program, and Vision has a better program, than last year so hopefully we pick up where we left off and try to make it bet ter."

(Did last year's ninth-place finish exceed all your expectations?): "Yeah, it did actually. It's one of those things where you go into the month, a top-10 finish at any race is pretty good with the competition level the way it is, and that was my goal last year. Just a top-10 finish was my goal, if I could just get in the top 10 I'd be a happy guy. We were very fortunate to be able to go beyond that and get a ninth and actually run in the top-five at times. Absolutely, I was very happy with the result."

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Despite their rookie status, several of the ROP candidates have previously competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Lloyd, Howard, Mutoh and Camara competed in Firestone Indy Lights events on the oval. Camara won the Firestone Freedom 100 in 2005 and finished third the last two seasons. Lloyd won the Firestone Freedom 100 in 2007. Mutoh finished second in last year's race, while Howard was the runner-up in 2006.

Bernoldi and Wilson made Formula One starts on the Speedway's road course. Bernoldi finished 13th in the 2001 United States Grand Prix. Wilson was eighth in 2003.

Rahal led 21 laps in the Firestone Indy Lights race on the road course in 2006.

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Stephan Gregoire is one of the drivers who doesn't have a ride for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500, although the seven-time "500" starter will be driving the "two-seater" for guests during the month of May.

Gregoire remains at the ready. Earlier this season, he competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona, and in June he will co-pilot a Pescarolo/Judd machine in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Roll Center Racing of England, which finished fourth a year ago. He's teamed with the daughter of former Formula One standout Jacky Ickx as a co-driver for that event.

And, in his 20th year of racing, Gregoire wants to run the Indianapolis 500 for the last time.

STEPHAN GREGOIRE: "No European driver has ever run all three of those races in one season. It's something, a goal, that I really want to do."

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Will Power, driver of the #8 Aussie Vineyard-Team Australia Honda/Dallara/Firestone, took the honor of being the first driver on track for Opening Day at the 92nd Indianapolis 500, an honor that sometimes has been hard-fought over the years. The best start by the driver first on track over the last 25 years has been by Raul Boesel, who started second in 1994. The best finish is second, set by Marco Andretti in 2006.

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Indianapolis 500 rookie E.J. Viso and Firestone Indy Lights driver J.R. Hildebrand were among 35,000 participants in yesterday's OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. Hildebrand completed the 13.1-mile run in 1 hour, 33 minutes and 36 seconds, finishing 834th overall. Viso completed the run in 1:36.16.

E.J. VISO (#33 PDVSA HVM RACING): "My run yesterday was great. It was a great opportunity and a great way to spend my first time in this track. It was kind of a different way to come to a new track. I am not tired. I was way off my limit. I just did it for fun. I wasn't pushing, and it was kind of frustrating because you're running and you know that you can not run quick because you're thinking of tomorrow. I just took it easy, did it for training and just enjoyed it.

"It was difficult (to judge the banking and configuration) because there were so many people and we didn't run on the actual track, just the inside part and it was full of people, you couldn't see much."

J.R. HILDEBRAND (#25 Allied Building Products): "I wasn't really sure what I was getting myself into because I hadn't trained for it and I haven't run that distance for time before. There were a ton of people at the start, so it took a little while to get settled in, but once I got a few miles in I felt pretty good. Running onto the speedway grounds was definitely an experience, and having to run all the way around the track really gives one an appreciation for how big the place really is and what we'll be up against in a few weeks. I was still on a good pace after I got through 10 miles. From there it got a little tougher, but I was able to work through it. I posted a respectable time at the end, although I'm not sure there's ever been a time that I was happier just to have made it to the end of a race."

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Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard waved the green flag to officially open practice for the 92nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

GREG BALLARD (Mayor of Indianapolis): "It was a lot of fun, I have to tell you. When the cars come by it's pretty exciting.

"I really never got here until I was a teenager and I saw my first race. It was quite a while back, I think it was '73. When I was in the Marine Corps, I watched races all around the world in different places I was at, and to come back home and be the starter at Indy, it's pretty special stuff.

"I tell people, frankly, that this is the best month of any city in the world. It really is a great event and a great month, and it really celebrates the city and the culture of the city. This is such a symbol around the world. It truly is. I've been around the world and I know it. People talk about this place everywhere, and I'm so proud of this place and what it does for the city."

(About ride in Corvette Pace Car) "That was great. We got up somewhere around 135-140 (mph) probably, and he was telling me where they look at their marks and how they look at the track, and coming out of Turn 2, how they look at the wind sock down there, and it was just amazing. And to think we were going 100 miles an hour less than the race cars are going, so having to react that quickly and having to concentrate that much for three hours is incredible."

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Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk is working with rookie Alex Lloyd, and was even seen chauffeuring the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights champion and his wife on a golf cart.

ARIE LUYENDYK: "Chip Ganassi asked me to, like I've done before for him, with Ryan Briscoe, just to kind of be in the pits, listen to what's going on and give Ryan some advice and the same with Alex (Lloyd). There are things that a rookie is not aware of, obviously, when he comes here, so I can help a bit on a lot of things with my experience, not just for practicing, but also for qualifying and race day. With this place, say the car starts to go away and handle bad, then you get this mental aspect and it's really important to not get down on yourself. So a lot of those things I can kind of tell the driver, you know, don't worry about it, it's the car. Change this, do that, or whatever."

(About how the event relates now to when he was a rookie) "The track is still the same and the speeds are still high, and that's the one thing that a lot of people forget, with the rookies and the guys that have never been here, that the first time you walk into this place you have to be impressed and somewhat humbled, so it does that to you somewhat when you're young. But as far as the things that have changed, all that has really changed is the infield stuff and the buildings and the Pagoda. Stuff like that is obviously very cool looking, but from a driver's perspective, you're not really looking at the buildings, you're looking at what you're going to do on the racetrack. That really hasn't changed much. The cars are different now than they were then, but of course, these guys wouldn't know the cars from back then, so for them it's pretty much the same as it was for us when we started here."

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INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

JAY HOWARD (No. 24 Roth Racing): "It went good. We started off a little bit later than everyone else. Just wanted to take our time. We've got a full month, so there's no rush for us. We had a couple of issues just to start off. We got them ironed out and did our steps and went through them as we needed and got them out of the way. We're happy and ready for tomorrow. We've got five hours of track time tomorrow to start playing and start getting into the 220s.

"It's so nice to come here and pace yourself, build up to it. If the car doesn't feel quite right, just come in. It's nice to know that you're not up against time. You don't feel like, 'I've got to get this in,' or 'We've got to get runs in.' Just take your time, if it doesn't feel right, just pull it in. Check something, make some changes, go again. OK, that feels better, do your run. There's no point in letting this place bite you. So for us, it was a good day. We accomplished what we wanted, and hopefully tomorrow we'll get around the 220s and then after than we're going to start heading more toward the 225s and in that area."

HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream): "Today went very well for the Formula Dream team. It would've been a perfect day if I was the fastest driver today, but I am happy with the car. It is very exciting for me to be racing in the IndyCar Series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Indianapolis 500 is such a big race, so I am very excited to be part of it. I have to learn the track and get used to being in traffic with so many cars, but we will keep practicing and I am confident to be ready by race day."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 02 McDonald's Racing Team): "This definitely feels like the right way around the track. This is a completely different place from when I ran in Formula One here. Someone told me it was like four quick corners on a road course, and that is what I have found. The car goes where you point it, whereas on some of the other ovals that is not the case. It's a really cool feeling when the car releases out of the corner and onto the straight. Looking at Turn 1 is pretty cool. You just head down there and all you can see is the wall, and just when you start to panic the corner opens up and you turn in and the car flows so well. It's a real pleasure; I'm having fun driving the McDonald's car here. It was a smooth day. Everything went to plan. The McDonald's car is working well, and the team is doing a great job. It&rs quo;s a good starting point, and hopefully we can start to work on our setups and begin to take some drag out of the car. You can get to a certain level then you have to start taking downforce out to go quicker. That's when the car starts to get more difficult and you have to start driving it."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps): "Surprisingly, I wasn't nervous at all. I think if you get yourself worked up about it you get really nervous. Then you make errors and mistakes, which can lead to a crash. It's a big weight off our shoulders to finish ROP, and now we can get down to work and get on with the month, and that's the biggest thing. Of course it feels good to get a day under our belts, and it's pretty cool running here too. We didn't want to use too many sets of tires today. It's all about conserving those right now. We completed ROP then ran another couple of outings and parked it. We'll regroup and go back out tomorrow to get a little more track time. Justin (Wilson) and I were both running pretty well, and we're both running high downforce right now. I don't know what everybody els e is running, but we're going to start peeling it off here and see what happens. It's a big place. When you run 220 (mph) here, the speed doesn't get to you really. We need to gain another nine (mph) or so to get where everyone was last year. I didn't expect to go as fast as we did right away. I didn't know what to think, but I'm pretty happy with the way it's gone."

E.J. VISO (No. 33 PDVSA HVM Racing): "I heard from all these other drivers how difficult and scary this track is, and I really didn't think it was too bad. For sure the speeds are higher and it is quite a long lap, but I only have two ovals to compare it with. It's great to be here, and it's nice that we get so much track time to prepare for the race. I'm looking forward to this month, and I think we will continue to improve as the days pass."

JAIME CAMARA (No. 34 Sangari): "It was great taking my first laps around the Speedway in an IndyCar (Series car). It is a lot quicker than an Indy Lights car that's for sure. I'm happy that everything went well today. We made progress and we passed the ROP. Before our last run, we made some adjustments to the car just to test some things and then it went really well. I am looking forward to the month. I think as the month continues we are going to make more and more progress everyday, and hopefully we can do a good job in qualifying and qualify the first week."

ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (No. 36 Sangari Conquest Racing): "Turning my first laps here in the Dallara was nice. It's a great track. It resembles more what I am used to driving, but with really fast corners. The car was good, but we missed some time at the end to complete our rookie test. But we will be able to go tomorrow to get that done, and then we can continue working on the car in preparation for qualifying."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol): "I've been waiting my entire life for this. The straights are just long enough to where you can start thinking about what you can do to the car to make it better, but you can't think too much because the turns come up quick. And you have some business to do once you get there."

ALEX LLOYD (No. 16 Rahal Letterman with Chip Ganassi): "It was great fun out there. Obviously the speed is the biggest difference, but once you get a few laps in and get used to it everything seems to slow down for you and things felt very comfortable. That's the nice thing about ROP is that it kind of forces you to take your time and find your way up to speed safely. Now we just have to settle in, learn the subtle nuances of the track and try and gain more speed. It's weird because I am used to getting to the track on the first day and trying to wring every drop of speed out of the car, and that's not what it is about here. You really need to take your time, develop the car over the month and you'll have something you can race with. That's what we are here for."

WILL POWER (No. 8 Aussie Vineyard-Team Australia): "We were first out and last in. It was a good day. Initially when I went out I thought, 'How the hell do you go flat here?' But we crept up through it. We had a pretty safe car there at the end, it was pretty solid. I was happy to get flat all the way around because that takes you to the next level, and now we start trimming out. We did plenty of mileage because we're a bit wary of what the weather's going to be like later in the week, so I'm very happy for the Aussie Vineyards KV Technology team."

(Since you brought it up, how do you go flat around here and how quickly did you get to that point?): "Well, you run a little downforce to make the car safe. Obviously the track's a little dusty, and we're rookies and a rookie team as well. At the end of the day it makes the car more settle d and plus, when you're going quicker there's more downforce, so it makes the car feel nice and solid and consistent throughout the corner. Now the challenge, you start heading toward 225 mph, you start trimming out, that's when the driving really comes in and you've got to be smart with the setup. You don't want the car to bite you and end up in the wall, it's going to cost you a lot of time."

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology): "Times goes fast, it was 2002 actually. I did some laps here with Walker (Racing) and the place is as I remember, it's always a challenge and a lot of fun. I'm very happy to be here. I've been racing in the U.S. since 1998 and never have got a real shot at doing Indy, so I'm very happy to be here and with a great team. Today we accomplished all the goals we had, which was to get used to the car, the track, the speeds. Once we were there, we started getting some miles and learning the car to give the guys some data so they can make the car faster, and I think we did that. I'm very happy with how the car felt and it was a great first day at Indy."

(Because this track has four distinct corners, you have to develop a pace and rhythm to really get around here, and historically guys with road course experience do we ll here because they understand that. Do you agree with that?): "I believe so. The corners are definitely closer to what would be, I don't know, Turn 1 at Elkhart (Lake, Wis.), than Homestead, I would say. It's a combination of both - you have banking and you go in with a lot of speed, and there's a lot of things happening right away. At Homestead and other superspeedways, you're going really fast but everything happens really slow in the corner. Here, everything comes to you really quick in Turn 1, you're breathing, 'OK, I'm through the turn,' and you're in Turn 2 right away, so it's definitely a different rhythm."

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A total of 18 cars are currently at the Speedway and have passed technical inspection. Thirteen drivers have been on the track to date and have turned 661 laps this month. Will Power turned 93 laps today, most of any driver this month. There were two cautions for a total of 18 minutes.

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MONDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):
9 a.m. Public Gates Open
Noon-5 p.m. Rookie Orientation Program
6 p.m. Track Closes

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The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at noon (EDT) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues May 23 at Indianapolis.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Enrique Bernoldi , Stephan Gregoire , Davey Hamilton , Arie Luyendyk , Raul Boesel , Oriol Servia , Graham Rahal , Mario Dominguez , Jacky Ickx , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Ryan Briscoe , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Alex Lloyd , Will Power , Jaime Camara , Jay Howard , Mario Moraes , J.R. Hildebrand , Hideki Mutoh
Teams KV Racing Technology , HVM Racing , Conquest Racing