IRL: Indy 500: Seven drivers complete rookie orientation

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, April 13, 2001 - Seven drivers - Nicolas Minassian, Brandon Erwin, Bruno Junqueira, Shigeaki Hattori, Didier Andre, Felipe Giaffone and Jon Herb -- passed their Indianapolis 500 rookie tests Friday at the Indianapolis Motor...

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, April 13, 2001 - Seven drivers - Nicolas Minassian, Brandon Erwin, Bruno Junqueira, Shigeaki Hattori, Didier Andre, Felipe Giaffone and Jon Herb -- passed their Indianapolis 500 rookie tests Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Minassian was the first driver to pass the test, which is required before a driver is cleared to practice during the month of May. He only was required to pass the final two phases since he had tested extensively at the Speedway earlier this year.

The Chip Ganassi Racing rookie, who races on the CART circuit, passed his final phase moments before he made the only wall contact on the day. Minassian hit the inside and outside frontstretch walls when his engine locked up exiting Turn 4. Minassian was transported by ground to Methodist Hospital and was released in the afternoon in good condition with a strained neck.

It was the only accident of the day.

"It was a very good day," said Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League. "The weather cooperated and afforded everyone plenty of track time. All nine drivers have completed their requirements to participate in May."

Erwin, driving the No. 30 McCormack Motorsports G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone, was the first driver to pass all four phases of the exam. Erwin, of Denton, Texas, ran a total of 66 laps and completed the test in the early afternoon.

Helio Castroneves, driving for Team Penske, posted the fastest lap of the day, 41.020 seconds, 219.404 mph. Although Castroneves is a rookie at Indianapolis, he is a veteran on the CART circuit, so he was not required to take the rookie test.

Junqueira, who ran a total of 106 laps, posted the second fastest lap of the day, 41.240 seconds, 218.234 mph. Junqueira and Minassian are new this season to Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. They replaced Jimmy Vasser and defending Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Montoya.

Hattori, driver of the No. 55 EPSON G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone entry, was another exception to the regular four-phase exam. He only was required to complete a refresher test consisting of the final two phases since he completed his rookie test last year.

Giaffone logged 115 laps in the No. 21 Hollywood G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone entry, while Herb totaled 58 laps on the day driving the No. 6 Tri Star Motorsports Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Andre, who joined Galles Racing this year as a teammate to Al Unser Jr. and Casey Mears, completed 68 laps for the day in his No. 32 G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Although Mears is a rookie in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, he completed his Indy 500 rookie test last year and already has received his clearance.

Newcomer Cory Witherall recorded his first laps in the afternoon and managed to pass three of the four phases. In the WSA Motors/Indy Regency Racing entry, he will attempt to complete his test tomorrow, the final day of the annual Rookie Orientation Program.

ROP resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m. Spectators are welcome to watch free of charge. Seating will be available in the South Terrace bleachers on the inside of the track adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.


BRIAN BARNHART (Vice President of Operations for the Indy Racing League): "Cory Witherill didn't start until the afternoon, and he made it through three phases. He'll just have one to do tomorrow, but he's still cleared for May." (Did anyone stand out?): "Brandon Erwin did a great job. I was very happy to see him get all four phases completed. Everybody went through all the phases without any problems. It's good to get those guys out there getting laps. I still think the concept of the ROP is good. It gives drivers an opportunity to test and get comfortable in the car on this track without a great deal of traffic."

JON HERB: "The test was a breeze. The test was easy because I have someone of (team manager) Larry Curry's experience and knowledge to get through these types of things. Larry and the rest of the guys gave me a great car. At that point, you just do your job as a driver."

FELIPE GIAFFONE: "It's not easy to complete the rookie test here. This track is different than any other I've been on. Each corner is different, and as you change your line it affects each corner. Every lap here you learn something new. I don't think you can ever get enough laps here. Of course it was very helpful to have Arie (Luyendyk) helping me. He gave me two tips that really made the difference in how I approached the track. I'm really happy to have him as a teammate for the 500."

BRANDON ERWIN: "I guess it's another relief. Now with the test behind us, we can just work on getting smooth and getting faster, so we can qualify for the race. I feel really good about everything. It was easier at the end because I changed my line. With a later apex in the turns it was much easier to drive. I ran out of fuel on the last phase; that's funny because I ran out of fuel on my IRL rookie test at Texas at the very end. Being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway means everything to me. I got chills walking over to the car. I can't wait to be here next month and be part of it all. I've been daydreaming about racing all of my life. If I can qualify and be one of the 33 drivers it wouldn't just make my day it would make my life. I've got plenty to think about now. Everyone told me you have to respect this racetrack. You never figure it out because it changes day to day. "

DIDIER ANDRE: "It was pretty nice. This was my first time here. This place is pretty impressive definitely. When you arrive here, it's a track like any other track. But when you drive it, it's quite different. Then you change your mind. This place is not like any other track. It's difficult to explain. When you exit Turn 4, Turn 1 looks so far away. I say to myself, 'There's no way I can go there.' Because it's so dark it's hard to see the line. Turn 1 is difficult, but each day it will get easier. I had fun today. I passed my rookie test. Tomorrow, we start working on the car setup." BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: "We had a great day today. It is great to come here and get experience on this track. It is good for me to get experience and keep learning. I am still learning the best way to get around this track. It is important for me to find the best line around this track. I have been watching the Indy 500 since I was 7 years old, and it will be an honor to race here next month. What Team Target did last year was important because it helps me to be confident and know that we can run well here. I'm looking forward to watching the veterans test here so that I can see what lines they run on this track."

SHIGEAKI HATTORI: "It (test) was a lot like what I expected, but still was a thrill to receive my license. It felt like it didn't take any time at all to get up to 215 mph, and I think a lot of that had to do with my new engineer, Thomas Knapp."

HELIO CASTRONEVES: "It was a great opportunity to come over here and get to test. It's a very technical track. You have to be precise. The car is so sensitive to the weather. If the wind starts blowing a different direction, it will change the track. You have to be patient. I'm trying to go smooth and make sure the car goes well. That might be a good thing to try in traffic. We're still working hard; 219 mph is not good enough. We have to go much quicker. We need to improve our times, but make sure we're on the safe side."


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Jon Herb , Casey Mears , Shigeaki Hattori , Didier André , Cory Witherill , Helio Castroneves , Jimmy Vasser , Brandon Erwin , Bruno Junqueira , Chip Ganassi , Brian Barnhart
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , HART