IRL: Rookie contest for Indy 500 will be a tight battle

With eight first-timers making up the field of 33 drivers for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, the Bank One Rookie of the Year contest will be a tight one.

Kosuke Matsuura receives fastest rookie of the year award.
Photo by Jim Haines - IRL.
Japanese entry Kosuke Matsuura is the highest placed rookie in the field, starting from ninth place on the 33-car grid in his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda. Matsuura, 24, has been among the fastest drivers all month long and is "very excited about tomorrow's race." He notched his best finish of the short year last month at his home race on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval.

Last year's Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion, Mark Taylor starts 14th in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet from Panther Racing's stables. The Briton believes he's had "a pretty consistent month, but of course I'm nervous like everybody else." Taylor has 12 family members at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his debut.

Starting next to Taylor, fellow Briton Darren Manning isn't considered an Indy Racing League IndyCar Series rookie, but here, as a first-timer Manning is eligible for this award. Driving the #10 Target Panoz G Force/Toyota from Chip Ganassi Racing, Manning is proud to "be with one of the best teams. I think tomorrow's race will be totally different from qualifying and I believe we've got a car that will be good in traffic. This should be fun," he enthused.

Should he win tomorrow, Ed Carpenter "can walk home so I can party pretty hard" after 200 laps of hard racing. Carpenter, who holds the distinction of winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the inaugural Futaba Freedom 100 in 2003, drives the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet for the most recent American Indy 500 winner, Eddie Cheever.

A.J. Foyt IV and uncle Larry.
Photo by Dana Garrett - IRL.
There will be two Foyt drivers in the 500 for the first time in history and Larry Foyt, driving the orange #41 A.J. Foyt Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota for his dad, the legendary four-time Indy 500 winner. "There's a big difference between the stock cars I've been driving the last five years and these open wheel machines," Foyt recognized. His main concern is pit stops, totally unlike those in NASCAR, yet "I brought some of my Cup guys over for this race. The jack man won't know where to put his jack, will he?" Foyt asked.

Shortly after finishing second in last Saturday's Futaba Freedom 100, 2003 Menards Infiniti Pro Series runner-up Jeff Simmons learned he had been selected to drive a second car for Pioneer Electronics and Mo Nunn Racing. Simmons put it safely in the field in 29th place last Sunday, but wishes he had "more time to develop the car. Qualifying is only the first step" at Indy. And, starting 29th Simmons feels the pressure.

There are two rookies in the final row of eleven for tomorrow's race. PJ Jones, son of 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli takes the green flags from 31st position. "At least I know nobody will hit me from behind," he joked. Jones is driving a #98 CURB Records/Agajanian/Beck Motorsports blue-and- white Dallara/Chevy that looks much like his father's winning car.

Calling his opportunity "a dream come true," Jones also noted, for the benefit of the other seven rookies that "this place takes a whole different shape on race day." Any advice from his famous father? "Yeah, he told me to make sure I beat Foyt!"

Marty Roth.
Photo by Dan Helrigel - IRL.
Marty Roth, the Canadian who also competes in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series calls his six weeks at Indy "a lot of hard work. It's been rough," Roth said, "and quite an education. There's nothing like Indy and it keeps growing, growing. I've learned an awful lot about what Indy means."

These eight Bank One Rookie of the Year candidates join 25 of their peers tomorrow at 11AM to start the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the 88th Indianapolis 500.