Tracy sets the pace at Indy orientation kickoff

Tracy sets the pace at Indy orientation kickoff

On track activities for the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 kicked off today with Paul Tracy setting the fastest lap at a stout 223.089 mph. The three hour practice session was reserved for rookie orientation and refresher...

On track activities for the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 kicked off today with Paul Tracy setting the fastest lap at a stout 223.089 mph. The three hour practice session was reserved for rookie orientation and refresher laps.

Paul Tracy, KV Racing Technology.
Photo by Chris Jones - IRL.

Tracy took advantage of the opportunity to run some refresher laps, turning a handful of laps early in the session. Within five laps Tracy had set the pace at speeds just above 220 mph. He returned to the track later in the day to knock Scott Sharp from the top of the speed chart.

"We took advantage of today, with the refresher course," said Tracy, who hasn't raced at the Speedway since 2002. "There's rain in the forecast the next couple days possibly - the weather can change here at any time, so I'm pretty happy with where we're at right now."

Tracy has made it clear that he's at the Speedway to win. "I just want to race," he said. "It's all I've ever done. I've been racing since I was 6 years old, and I didn't want my career to just come to an abrupt stop after racing Indy cars for 16 or 17 years. When the merge happened, my team owner decided to stop, and when the music stopped, it kind of left me without any seats to sit in. It's been very frustrating thinking after all this time my career's just going to end like that. That's not the way I wanted it to end. I realize I'm not going to race another 10 years, but I'd like to run a couple more years. I feel I'm competitive. I feel I've got the drive. And hopefully something will open up. I know I'm not going to run forever, but I want to have a couple more years and have a shot at it and have something for my fans to remember."

The refresher option was available to six drivers, including Scott Sharp, who was second fastest (221.878 mph) today. Sharp left the IndyCar Series after the 2007 season for the American Le Mans Series, where he still competes in an Acura prototype.

"It feels great," said Sharp. "There was obviously a lot of anticipation and a lot of excitement surrounding the whole opportunity with Patron and Panther Racing. To get out here and finally start doing it today, it was great. It feels so good to be back. By lap one, it felt like I was back in the old shoe again. It really felt good."

All six drivers facing the rookie orientation program took to the Speedway today with Robert Doornbos leading the way at 221.735 mph. Doornbos was the first driver to complete his rookie program, turning a total of 72 laps.

Robert Doornbos, Newman/Haas/Lanigan .
Photo by Andy Sallee.

"I seem to learn fast on the ovals and the team is doing a good job, so I don't see a reason why we shouldn't be in the top 11," Doornbos said confidently.

The Speedway commands respect, from its history, the fame it brings the winner, to the incredible speeds. "If you get to thinking you can be the fastest on the first day, you'll find yourself in the wall," Doornbos said. "You respect the place, and you build up to it. We got some good speed today."

Minutes after Doornbos passed his rookie program, Raphael Matos was credited with completing his program. He was fourth fastest on the day at 218.613 mph. "Today was a great day," said Matos. "The car was very consistent. The team made many aerodynamic changes to the car, which gave us an idea of how the car would run in different situations. I was able to build up my confidence a lot. This is very important to set the tone for the rest of the month."

Alex Tagliani and Mike Conway also passed all phases of their rookie program. Tagliani (218.333 mph) and Conway (217.063 mph) were fifth and sixth, respectively.

"The first run was a bit daunting," said Conway. "It's a big place here and a lot of high speed. Once I did the first run, I came back to the garages and sat down and thought about it. I felt a lot more comfortable and relaxed in the second run, which is the way that you have to be in these cars, just relaxed and feel what's going on. Overall, I'm really happy with the runs we had today. We learned a lot with the car and made some good setup changes, so I think we are looking great for tomorrow."

Nelson Philippe (7th - 214.786 mph) and Stanton Barrett (9th -- 207.522 mph) will continue their ROP tomorrow. Barrett has completed part 2 of the ROP while Philippe has completed part 3.

Philippe found some speed late in the session. With ten minutes remaining, Philippe knocked Alex Lloyd down one notch on the speed chart.

Lloyd, who was taking advantage of the refresher program, only turned 10 laps before taking his car back to the garage.

Editor's Note: Wednesday, May 6 was rained out. Opening Day for first Indianapolis 500 practice is now on Thursday, May 7th.

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Series INDYCAR