IRL: A Look at the Indy 500 Rookies

Eight rookies fill the Freshman class at this year's running of the Indianapolis 500. John Hollansworth, Jr., Wym Eckmans, Dave Steele, Jacques Lazier, Robby McGehee, Nick Firestone, Jeret Schroeder, and Mike Borkowski will compete for Bank One ...

Eight rookies fill the Freshman class at this year's running of the Indianapolis 500. John Hollansworth, Jr., Wym Eckmans, Dave Steele, Jacques Lazier, Robby McGehee, Nick Firestone, Jeret Schroeder, and Mike Borkowski will compete for Bank One Rookie of the Year honors this year.

Of the eight rookies entered in this year's race, only three, Eckmans, Firestone, and Lazier have never competed in a Pep Boys Indy Racing League event. Lazier was entered in the MCI WorldCom 200 at Phoenix, but failed to compete in the race after losing an engine in the morning warm up session.

John Hollansworth is at the head of the class at this point in the season. Hollansworth has shown considerable talent and speed in the first two Indy Racing League events at Disney World and Phoenix. At Phoenix, he ran as high as second place before being sidelined with gearbox problems. Since he's been at the Speedway, he's run over 220 every day. His fastest speed was set today with a lap at 222.635 mph.

Dave Steele, driver of the second Panther Racing entry, competed in two IRL events last season. He has a background in sprint cars and USAC Silver Bullet cars and is known as a pavement specialist. He cut his teeth racing in the TBARA sprint cars, a series that runs winged sprint cars on flat, paved half-mile tracks like Hialeah Speedway near Miami. He's in a well-funded ride at the Speedway. With some luck he'll be a top contender for ROY honors.

Robby McGehee burst upon the IRL scene at Charlotte with his F2000 team, Conti Racing. Before the race came to a tragic end, McGehee, who's dreamed of being a racer all his life, showed signs of brilliance and speed. He ran comfortably through traffic even though he had a limited number of laps in practice. McGehee, who comes to the Speedway with Greg Ray's front row car from last year, has been the fastest rookie to this point, turning in a lap at 224.025 mph today.

Third fastest rookie at the Speedway is Wym Eckmans in the Team Cheever entry. Eckmans, from Belgium, raced in three Indy Lights races, Vancouver, Laguna Seca, and Fontana, last season. His last win came in 1993 in a Hungarian Opel-GM-Lotus Eurocup race. Eckman's fastest lap to date at the Speedway came today when he ran 222.327 mph. Team Cheever produced the rookie of the year in 1996 with Jeff Ward but Eckmans remains much of a question mark until he spends more time in an IRL car.

Jeret Schroeder, from Vineland, New Jersey, has competed in two Pep Boys Indy Racing League events. He drove in the McCormack Motorsports entry at Disney World and Phoenix in 1997. Schroeder is intelligent and fast. All he needs is a bit of luck too. Jeret was running in the top ten at Phoenix when Scott Goodyear lost an engine right in front of him. He was unable to avoid the oil on the track and his day ended with the car in the wall. Schroeder was F2000 champion in 1995. He could continue championship aspirations given the right equipment. Jeret should be a contender for ROY honors too.

Lazier, Firestone and Borkowski are all struggling as they to find enough speed to qualify. Of the trio, Firestone has been fastest at 218.124. Lazier was just a tick slower, running 218.066. Both drivers turned in their best performances this afternoon. Lazier missed the first two days of practice and has had limited time in the car since he's been at the track. Of all the rookies, Borkowski has been struggling the most. Although he's been on track every day, his best lap has been at 215.688 mph. He'll need to find more speed if he expects to make the show.

Overall, the IRL has to be pleased with this year's freshman class. The seven Americans and one Belgian come from varied backgrounds. Each driver has shown that they have the talent and desire to race in the greatest race in the world. This Saturday and Sunday, they will attempt to qualify for the 83rd running of the Indianapolis 500, hoping that they will have the chance to go down in history as the 1999 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Jeff Ward , Scott Goodyear , Jeret Schroeder , Jaques Lazier  , Dave Steele
Teams Panther Racing