IRL: Rookies rarin' to go for Indy glory

IRL: Rookies rarin' to go for Indy glory

There's only one day remaining before the six drivers battling for JP Morgan Chase Rookie of the Year honors in the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race take the green for their first Greatest Spectacle in Racing. This year the winning rookie will...

There's only one day remaining before the six drivers battling for JP Morgan Chase Rookie of the Year honors in the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race take the green for their first Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

This year the winning rookie will be presented with a silver statue in the shape of an eagle for exceptional performance on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval over the course of 200 laps.

To a driver, all six are champing at the bit to get underway.

Tomas Enge.
Photo by Dana Garrett - IRL.
Czech superstar Tomas Enge, who firmly believes he's not at all well known in the United States despite his exemplary FIA Formula 3000 career, has enjoyed the month of May at Indy. "It's really nice that it takes so long with the preparations here. It's a lot of running, which is good for a rookie because you need a lot of preparation" for this race.

The driver of the #2 RockStar Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone racer already understands that "starting position isn't very important here but to be a rookie in the front is good because you don't want to be in the traffic, especially in the first couple of laps."

Starting tenth tomorrow, Enge has had input from teammates Buddy Lazier, winner of the 1996 Indy 500 and Tomas Scheckter to guide him, in addition to veteran engineers Andy Brown and Andy Borme.

The depth of talent at Target Chip Ganassi Racing extends to former Formula 1 tester Ryan Briscoe, the rookie who pilots the #33 Target/Pioneer Panoz/Toyota. Briscoe has already had his moments on the Brickyard oval, smacking the wall in his initial qualifying attempt.

The Australian settled down and put his car solidly in the field on the third day of time trials and will start 24th on Sunday. "It's great to be here and especially fantastic to be working with this team and teammates Darren Manning and Scott Dixon, both veterans of this race. "I couldn't be in better hands. With all the experience from all the engineers, Chip and my teammates, it's definitely a big help to me from the first day I came here for Rookie Orientation.

"We've had fantastic preparation all month long and gone through all the processes of qualifying preparation and race preparation," Briscoe explained. I think I'm definitely ready to race now and I can't wait."

Jeff Bucknum.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Preparing for this date his entire lifetime, Jeff Bucknum has the added baggage of family history to give him pressure to perform in the Memorial Day Classic. Aligned with Dreyer & Reinbold and driving their #44 Investment Properties of America Dallara/Honda,

Bucknum is "ready to go racing. No other time [in motorsports] have you had this much anticipation coming up to a race as this last week," he confirmed. "For our team and my situation, it's slightly different than the other rookies. I had a little problem in Japan which put our team a little back in terms of getting cars ready.

"I didn't get as much track time as I'd like to have, so we focused on having a good race car instead of a qualifying car," said Bucknum. "I'll experience a little more turbulence (starting 21st) and I'm just happy we got the car in the field where we did. It was very solid and the guys just gave me a car that was going to put me in the field safely. I really feel comfortable with the way it drives."

Thanks to her success in practice and qualifying, Danica Patrick has become a media darling this month but she still has a job to do. "I've never been so ready to get in the car and do my job," Patrick exclaimed.

"It's been a long and a short month and there's been so much to do, so much going on, so much exciting stuff for me, for the team, for our sponsors, for the series," she said. I have mostly enjoyed all of it. There have been some taxing times," Patrick admitted, "but I can't say that another day off would be nice.

Danica Patrick.
Photo by Shawn Payne - IRL.
Starting fourth with the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda, Danica Patrick is "ready to dump the interviews and get on with the job. That's where I'm coming from."

It's been a busy month for Champ Car World Series titleholder Sebastien Bourdais, as well. From Rookie Orientation to qualifying to finishing fifth in the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix at his "day job", Bourdais has been on the move.

Fifteenth on the grid after qualifying on the postponed MBNA Pole Day, the Frenchman who relishes competition in as many varied racing series as possible sighed, "We prepared as much as we could. We've had limited testing yet the car was pretty good in traffic."

Bourdais' #37 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda was barely finished in time for his rookie program so he "definitely could have used a bit more time. But that was part of the challenge. We did the best we could and we'll see if it's good enough tomorrow.

"It's a long race and my first 500-mile race and my first super-speedway race, too. I have a lot to learn and I'm just really looking forward to start the race and see the checkered flag. If we have a good day, then I think we can target a good result," Bourdais predicted.

Like Bourdais, Patrick Carpentier isn't much of a true rookie but, since this is the French Canadian's first ride at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota get those three rookie stripes.

The CART/Champ Car veteran starts 25th after being bumped the first weekend and noted, "We didn't have quite the speed that some of these guys have and we've basically been working on race setup the whole month. We basically did full tanks the whole time."

Between Carpentier and teammate Alex Barron, "We've covered over 3000 miles and hopefully it pays off and we'll have a good car for the race. I've heard there's a lot of turbulence back there; it's like a washing machine. So we'll see how it goes. If we can stay on the leader's lap and be with these guys at the end, that would be fantastic. That's what the objective is and I think we have decent race cars," Carpentier declared.

All that's left for this sextet and the balance of the 500 grid is to survive the 500 Festival Parade this afternoon, get a good night's sleep and wake up to the sounds of 400,000 people amassed for the world's largest single-day sporting event. No wonder each one of these rookies is raring to go.

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Series INDYCAR