Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Large rookie class headed to Indianapolis
2. Sherman gets bonus test with Panther Racing
3. Viso will start month with Mini-Marathon
1. Large rookie class headed to Indianapolis: Only eight rookies have ever won the Indianapolis 500 - and that includes Ray Harroun, who won the inaugural race in 1911. This year, 13 rookies, the most since 1997, will attempt to add their name to the list that includes Graham Hill, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves.
The rookie class for the 92nd Indianapolis 500 will take its first laps around the 2.5-mile speedway May 4-5 when they must complete the Rookie Orientation Program, a set of four phases of 10 laps each at increasing speeds.
The rookie class is diverse, featuring drivers who have won at the track in Firestone Indy Lights, drivers who competed on the track's road course in Formula One, and several drivers who will be on the grounds for the first time. There's also Graham Rahal, whose father Bobby won the 500 three years before the 19-year-old was born.
Jaime Camara, Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd and Hideki Mutoh competed at Indianapolis in Firestone Indy Lights, lapping the oval at 190 mph vs. the 225 mph of an IndyCar Series car. Camara won the Freedom 100 in 2005 and finished third twice. Lloyd won in 2007 while Mutoh finished fifth. Howard finished second in 2006.
"Last year was my first time to see the Indy 500 in person," said Mutoh, who has three top-10 finishes to start his IndyCar Series career. "That was so amazing, unbelievable. I've never raced in front of a crowd like that before. It's very exciting for me, even more than racing in Japan a couple of weeks ago."
"It's obviously something I've been looking forward for a long time," Howard said. "The first 500 I went to, I was sitting in the grandstands. The hair stands up on your arms, you get goose pimples. You can't explain to anyone what it's like, and I can't imagine what it's going to be like actually sitting in the car racing. It's definitely going to be a nice, new experience for me."
For Enrique Bernoldi and Justin Wilson, who competed on the road course with Formula One, they've driven portions of the oval before - in the opposite direction.
"There was a great deal of anticipation of going there and seeing the place," said Wilson, who finished eighth in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2003. "You've heard so many things about it, you want to go and see it for yourself. You don't realize how big everything is until you get there. That pit complex, the size of the grandstands - it's like two walls on either side of the track. It was interesting to see it.
"This year, it's a different deal altogether just because of the history behind the 500. It's a lot of anticipation and hope that we can do well. We just want to go there and get used to it. I've heard people say that it's basically four fast corners rather than an oval."
The rookies, along with three drivers taking refresher courses, will have two days of practice to learn the intricacies of four different corners before the track opens to all drivers May 6.
"Going down to Turn 1 flat out and seeing Turn 1, from what I've been told, all you can see is the outside wall and you're driving straight at it, and at the last minute you throw it into the corner," Wilson said. "It's just getting the confidence to turn in flat out or nearly flat out. It's going to take a little bit of time. You don't want to wreck the car. That's always the balance you're trying to trade off. You want to get up to speed, but you want to make sure if something happens you're within your limits. You don't want it to catch you out. That's going to be the key - how fast you can get up to speed, but knowing that if the back steps out, you're in control."
The better they can master that kind of control, the better the odds that one of these rookies can drive to Victory Lane on May 25.
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
2. Sherman gets bonus test with Panther Racing: Firestone Indy Lights rookie Brent Sherman got his first taste of an IndyCar Series machine on April 28.
Sherman, who shared Panther Racing's No. 4 Honda-powered Dallara with its regular driver Vitor Meira, became the latest Firestone Indy Lights driver to drive an IndyCar Series car thanks to the Firestone Indy Lights Bonus Testing program, which grants extra test days to teams that field full-time entries in the IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights.
"I didn't really know what to expect, obviously," said Sherman, who finished eighth in the Kansas Lottery 100 on April 27. "I'd have to say for me it went better than expected. We were up to speed fairly quickly on the first run, and I didn't know how much feedback I'd be able to give to the team and how much I'd really actually be able to help them."
The test concluded a busy weekend for Sherman, whose team picked up primary sponsorship from the National Guard for the remainder of the 2008 season. He returns to the track at the end of May when the Firestone Indy Lights contest the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"It just made me want more," Sherman said. "After I got out of the car I called John Barnes and said, 'Look, I'm ready for the 500 this year, let's do it.' I didn't get a comment back. So I'm assuming that's a no."
3. Viso will start month with Mini-Marathon: Forgive E.J. Viso if he's a bit tired for the first day of Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 4. The 23-year-old Venezuelan rookie will compete in the 32nd running of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Downtown Indianapolis the day before he begins preparations for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500.
"I'm not a professional runner, but I do run quite a lot for training purposes and I really enjoy it," said Viso, who drives the No. 33 PDVSA HVM Racing car. "I think that participating in the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon is a great opportunity to spend some time with the people who will be watching the race in a few weeks. It is my first time running with so many people, I've only done a couple of 10Ks before but I'm really excited about it.
"When I get to the part of the marathon course that is inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, those will be my first steps on the track. I think it is fitting that I step foot on the grounds of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" in this way. I will be taking it easy, however, not looking to set any records, as I have to be in the car on Sunday for my first day of Rookie Orientation."
Firestone Indy Lights points leader J.R. Hildebrand also is expected to run in the Mini-Marathon.
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. The Kansas Lottery 100 will be telecast at 2 p.m. (EDT) on May 1 by ESPN2.