Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Rookie Orientation begins Sunday (May 4th) and plays hosts to the largest group of incoming drivers, first-timers to the Brickyard, in years.
The program is a phased, speed-controlled, ladder of laps around the 2.5 mile oval that eventually leads to qualifying and the fabled Indianapolis 500 race on Memorial Day.
Thirteen drivers will make their first circuits in an IndyCar Series Dallara/Honda around the nearly-century old racetrack as they chase their dreams of hoisting the quart of milk awarded the winner of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
Topping the list are ex-Formula 1 driver Justin Wilson of Newman Haas Lanigan Racing and his nineteen-year old teammate Graham Rahal.
Wilson drove the Indianapolis road course during the 2003 U S Grand Prix. He admitted some trepidation at the fantastic speeds the cars reach on the super-speedway at Indy.
"I've not driven but on the road circuit there," he said on Wednesday evening, "and that was 'round the final turn backwards to the Formula 1 finish line."
"I guess I'll find out soon what it's like driving there at 220, 230 miles per hour."
Conquest Racing's Enrique Bernoldi also joins Wilson as an F1-veteran, IndyCar-rookie at Indianapolis. For Bernoldi, the transition to the course may be eased by the addition of Firestone Indy Lights veteran Jaime Camara to the team's driver lineup. Camara actually owns a win on the oval, in the 2005 Freedom 100, driving on the series' undercard.
Indy Lights 2007 champion Alex Lloyd will make his first appearance of the 2008 season at Indianapolis. The record-making English driver joined the Chip Ganassi Racing driver development stable in November of last year and has bided his time waiting for an opportunity to get back on-track in front of the fans. He'll pilot an entry under the Rahal/Letterman Racing name, but staffed by Ganassi Racing regulars in the pits and in the trackside control station.
Lloyd is joined by 2006 Indy Lights champion Jay Howard (racing for Marty Roth's team) and Andretti Green Racing's Hideki Mutoh, all of whom have familiarity with the Speedway from participation in the Freedom 100.
"It's obviously something I've been looking forward to," said the personable Howard of ROP.
"It's definitely going to be a nice, new experience for me."
The drivers hope to complete all four phases of the ROP prior to Tuesday (May 6th) when the track opens to the rest of the field for Indianapolis 500 practice. The race is scheduled for 1 PM EDT on May 25th.
2008 Indianapolis 500 Rookies:
Oriol Servia - KV Racing Technology
Will Power - KV Racing Technology
Alex Lloyd - Rahal Letterman Racing
Ryan Hunter-Reay - Rahal Letterman Racing
Mario Moraes - Dale Coyne Racing
Jay Howard - Roth Racing
Hideki Mutoh - Andretti Green Racing
E.J. Viso - HVM Racing
Jaime Camara - Conquest Racing
Enrique Bernoldi - Conquest Racing
Mario Dominguez - Pacific Coast Motorsports
Justin Wilson - Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
Graham Rahal - Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing