IRL: Indy 500: Five drivers pass rookie orientation

INDIANAPOLIS, Saturday, April 13, 2002 - Five rookie drivers earned the opportunity to qualify for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 after completing the Rookie Orientation Program Saturday, April 13, at the Indianapolis Motor ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Saturday, April 13, 2002 - Five rookie drivers earned the opportunity to qualify for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 after completing the Rookie Orientation Program Saturday, April 13, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

John de Vries, Anthony Lazzaro, George Mack, Tomas Scheckter and Rick Treadway, who all are competing full-time in the 2002 Indy Racing League season, each passed the speed phases Saturday afternoon after rain cancelled all of Friday's activity and Saturday morning's session.

"Weather really impacted this year's Rookie Orientation Program," said Brian Barnhart, Indy Racing League Vice President of Operations. "What we normally ask the teams and drivers to accomplish in two days, this year's group was forced to do it all in half a day.

"Everyone responded really well. The Speedway's Facilities crew worked hard to prepare the track Saturday morning after a lot of overnight rain. And when the track went green, the teams were ready."

One of the requirements during the rookie test was completion of the four new speed phases. Drivers completed at least 10 consecutive laps at 200-205 mph, 205-210 mph, 210-215 mph and anything above 215 mph. The speed phases were increased 5 mph this year by Barnhart after consulting with veteran Indy Racing drivers and studying track conditions.

Rookies were also required to show consistent car control throughout the test. Al Unser Sr., four-time Indy 500 winner and driver coach for the IRL, Johnny Rutherford, a three-time Indy winner who is the director of special projects for the IRL, other Indy Racing veterans and Barnhart observed the tests.

"Al and Johnny were looking for consistency out of the drivers," said Barnhart. "Arie (Luyendyk) and Tyce (Carlson) also were a big help throughout the weekend."

Laurent Redon completed three phases and completed six of 10 laps of the fourth and final phase. Redon is eligible to participate in practice for the 86th Indianapolis 500, beginning on Opening Day, which is Sunday, May 5. He will be required to finish the final phase in May.

Shigeaki Hattori and Scott Harrington also turned laps on Saturday. Harrington, who drove in the 1996 Indianapolis 500, passed a refresher course. Hattori, who attempted to make the race in 2001, was not required to complete the Rookie Orientation Program again this year, but used the day to get laps around the 2.5-mile oval. Hattori ran 71 laps with a top speed of 223.528 mph, while Harrington completed 52 laps with a top speed of 219.457 mph.

<pre> The eight drivers completed a total of 633 laps for 1,582.5 testing miles. Driver Time Top Speed Total Laps 1. Tomas Scheckter 39.8133 226.055 89 2. George Mack 40.3991 222.777 104 3. John de Vries 40.7669 220.767 76 4. Anthony Lazzaro 40.9430 219.818 128 5. Rick Treadway 41.0680 219.149 58 6. Laurent Redon* 41.5040 216.847 55

*Has not passed the rookie test.

Practice: Shigeaki Hattori 223.528 71 Scott Harrington** 219.457 52

** Refresher course

Saturday's Rookie Orientation Program Quotes:

JOHN DE VRIES (No. 37 Pit Bull Energy Drink/Rhino Cleaning Products Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "It feels good to get out there and get this done. We've got it under our belts and now we can get out there and get some more speed. We ran good, not really pushing it too hard, now its time to go out and find some speed." (Is there a lot of pressure in maintaining the speeds for each segment?): "Yeah it is because 200 around here is hard, just staying between 200 and 205. Actually my best phase was the 215-plus, and I jumped straight from 210 to 219s. The car is set up really good. It started to get away from me after that but it felt good. Turn 1, at the very end, started to give me some trouble because I had a push but other than that it felt real good."

ANTHONY LAZZARO (No. 99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Racing Special Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "There are a lot of good rookies in the field this year attempting to qualify, and just getting though the rookie part is the first step. You know you only have one chance to do this the first time. Yesterday was my first laps on the track, and I just wanted to enjoy every minute of it. Unfortunately with the weather, we had to come back again today and really go through the program, but it's going to be totally different when you put 30-odd cars out there for practice in May." (About getting through the test and maintaining speeds): "It's hard. In the beginning I went 200-205 (mph) in the first phase, and I did that no problem. But then for some reason, I had it in my mind that the next phase was over 210 (mph), and they said slow down and I didn't understand because I thought that was the phase."

TOMAS SCHEKCTER (No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I think qualifying on Pole Day is a lift off your shoulders. This is something that everyone must do, and I wasn't worried about it. Al Unser and (Johnny) Rutherford, with the help of them, I have no worries, so it wasn't a big thing. We're just mainly testing the car now."

GEORGE MACK (No. 30 310 Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone) (Note: George Mack is entered in No. 30 for the Indianapolis 500. He used No. 31 during previous Indy Racing events) (About what has brought him to this point): "A lot of prayer. Mainly a lot of mental preparation and physical preparation, mostly mental. Reading up on things, look around, keep your ear in and listen to what different drivers say. You pick and choose what each one of these individuals tells you and pick and chose what best works for your driving style and setup. I want to try and keep the car as free as possible and consistent, I wasn't really trying to really go very fast." (Asked if this is a dream come true for him): "Not yet. This is the beginning of it. Right now, if you're talking about a dream, I guess I'm in the REM part of it. Then once I qualify, if that is to happen, then yeah, you'll see a lot more excitement. I want to make the field, well into the field, mind you, not the tail end of the field, not the very last car. I want to make the field, and that's where my head is. From a driver's standpoint, I'm never happy. From a logistical standpoint, I'm glad we got through ROP. If I had hit 223 or 224 already today I'd be happy. But we've got the rest of the day to do that. It wouldn't make me happy, but it would get me closer to happy. I'm the kind of guy that wants to get off the trailer and go, but I know it's not that easy."

LAURENT REDON (No. 34 Mi-Jack Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "The track is very impressive. What can I say? Everything that's been said about the track, you're always surprised. I don't know, I don't have the word, but you don't have any place like this in the world. Even if you don't know all the history, you're still impressed by the track, and I'm sure when it's full of people it should be very impressive. Right now we did not have good day because we had an engine problem, so we didn't run so much. I don't know flat out how it's going to be, because we had to do the slow thing for the rookie (test)." (Do you feel good about what you learned?) "Yeah, because we started from zero. So, I learned a lot. We were expected to learn a bit more. We didn't have the opportunity to do it because we had just a few laps. We don't care about the speed because it is just testing. Now we have to be ready for Nazareth, so I don't think it would be clever for us to test tomorrow, because we have only one car and we have to make it ready for Nazareth."

RICK TREADWAY (No. 55 Airlink Enterprises/Spade Motorsports Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I practiced here last year for 400 miles with Treadway-Hubbard Racing in October so that helped with my test today. Plus I have five or six races under my belt. It was great to have Arie (Luyendyk), Al (Unser) Sr., Brian Barnhart and Johnny Rutherford around to give me advice. The four of them gave me great tips on safety, etiquette and how to drive around here. We're loading up so we can get ready for Nazareth. We want to keep up our momentum for Nazareth. Our goal is a top-10 finish for Airlink Enterprises. From what I hear, that place can take its toll on racecars. Then we'll come back here to my hometown for May and team with Arie. This is something I've worked really hard for and dreamed about for seven or so years. Holy Cow."

-irl/ims-

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