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.
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.
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!"
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.