IRL: Indy ROP roundup

Rookie Orientation Program for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race proceeded with minimal distractions today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as seven drivers presented themselves for the four-phase program intended to prepare newcomers for the ...

Rookie Orientation Program for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race proceeded with minimal distractions today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as seven drivers presented themselves for the four-phase program intended to prepare newcomers for the nuances of the 2.5- mile flat oval.

Regular Indy Racing League IndyCar Series drivers Ed Carpenter (#52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet), Mark Taylor, in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet and Kosuke Matsuura in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda had four other competitors sharing the track with them.

Weather dictates the pace of action at the Brickyard, and today was no different. Drivers were unable to get on-circuit until just past 9:30AM (rather than the designated 9AM start) due to chilly temperatures. Target Chip Ganassi Grand-American pilot Luis Diaz was first to take laps around the track, followed quickly by Carpenter and Taylor.

Carpenter, winner of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Futaba Freedom 100 here last May was first to complete all four phases of the test, which requires 10-lap increments of 195-200mph, 200-205mph, 205-210mph and the final phase, ten consistent laps over 210mph. He was finished by 10:45 this morning.

Taylor was next to complete the tightly watched ensemble of laps at 11:15, as Indy Racing League senior technical director Phil Casey, four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford - who won the May classic three times and drives the IRL pace car - and senior vice president of racing operations Brian Barnhart evaluated his forty-lap excursion.

Diaz finished his rookie test at 11:55 and, while the schedule called for a lunch break at noon, the League decided to give competitors another ten minutes. Matsuura was into lap 6 of 10 at that precise point, so IRL officials allowed the Japanese charger to complete the last four laps of his Phase 4 program.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver Larry Foyt, who was excused from the rookie test yet afforded practice time today, shared his car with Menards Infiniti Pro Series standout Jeff Simmons. Foyt practiced the 14T Conseco Dallara/Toyota in the morning, while Simmons took over during the afternoon, completing three of four phases by 3:09PM and given permission to practice during the month of May.

Canadian Marty Roth, who is attempting to do an unusual double-play next month by driving in both the Futaba Freedom 100 and Indy 500 only turned two laps prior to the lunch break in his #25 Dallara/Toyota, yet came out at quarter past one to knock off his rookie test. He completed the first three phases by 3:11PM and will be allowed to practice for the Indy 500.

So who was fast? Carpenter logged the best lap of the day at 215.584mph on his 62nd of 97 total laps turned and exhaled: "It's really nice to get the initial anxiety of being at the Speedway out of the way. We had a really smooth run this morning and didn't run into any problems," Carpenter said. It's nice to go out, get a lot done and log in some good track time. To finally get to drive one of these things around here is everything I thought it would be."

Matsuura was second fastest at 214.322mph, set on lap 70 of 76. The IndyCar Series rookie just came off his best series finish at home on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval. He was very impressed by the track and its speed: "This track is the greatest circuit in the world and it is very fast. I have to work a lot with the car because I'm a rookie driver," Matsuura admitted. "I'm learning about the track, driving it and also American racing."

Mark Taylor, third quickest on the day at 212.920mph, set that speed on his 68th of 92 laps turned. Taylor was using the car he ran in Japan and, on the same lap he completed his rookie test, managed to run his car out of methanol, requiring a tow-in. The Briton said the Dallara "feels good, just pushing a bit out of Turn 1. I'm able to take some time without so many people out there to make sure I'm comfortable in the car."

Despite turning only 19 laps in the Foyt Enterprises machine, Simmons was fourth for the day at 212.261mph. A.J. Foyt Jr., shortly after Simmons got in the car advised him, "That's plenty fast, Jeff. You don't have to run no faster," so Simmons complied. Thanking the team for his opportunity to test, Simmons "knew they had run the car this morning and Larry was comfortable. A.J. told me what he thought it was going to do and how the wind was going to affect me out there, and he was right on. There were no surprises."

Diaz' 210.498mph lap gave him fifth place for the day's running, in which he toured the Brickyard oval a total of 128 times, turning his best on lap 95. "It's a great feeling to be here and the car's very good. I'm with one of the best teams in the series and I've been learning a lot," Diaz relayed. "I just came to help the team to make some laps and that's all. I'm just driving today," and doesn't know if this will lead to a ride in the 88th Indy 500.

Larry Foyt's morning yielded a lap of 210.013mph on his 47th of 59 total laps and he admitted, "I had a blast out there. We didn't really try to run fast," Foyt said. "The speed is something to get used to, and you run a little bit different line. Foyt will attempt to qualify for his first Indy 500 under the guidance of his father, A.J. Foyt Jr.

Roth used his 75 laps to log one at 206.963mph on his 64th run around these difficult four corners. Putting the car together, "We were under the gun and my guys did a fantastic job putting it out there. These guys worked late last night and early this morning, so we missed the whole morning session," the Canadian said. "We pulled it together at the end and the car ran great. We have some work to do to get over the final hump but, overall it was a great day."

By the end of the day, Carpenter, Matsuura, Taylor and Diaz have passed the four required speed phases of the Rookie Orientation Program test; Simmons and Roth finished three of four, enabling them to practice with veterans when the Brickyard circuit opens for Indy 500 practice on May 9th.

After the lunch break, Newman/Haas Racing unveiled their 2004 Indy 500 challenger, the #36 PacifiCare Panoz G Force/Honda with Bruno Junqueira driving. The Brazilian who held MBNA pole position here in 2002 figures he has unfinished business at the Brickyard and looks forward to settling the score come May. He'll go to the qualifying line under the guidance of many experienced professionals: owner Carl Haas, team manager Jim McGee, engineering whiz Tim Wardrop and chief mechanic Mark Shambarger.

As teams set up for the first full test of the new 3-liter engine regulations and chassis updates that go with them, several drivers were seen watching the rookies take their paces. Alex Barron advised Carpenter during the test, as did Team Target drivers Scott Dixon and Darren Manning with Diaz.

Menards Infiniti Pro Series drivers Thiago Medeiros and Arie Luyendyk Jr. were on-site, as was Jaques Lazier, who drove the Menards IndyCar Series Dallara/Chevrolet last season.

Due to the likelihood of very cold weather tomorrow, the scheduled two-day open test has been postponed until Wednesday and Thursday, when the climate in these parts is supposed to be more temperate.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Jaques Lazier  , Bruno Junqueira , Scott Dixon , Larry Foyt , Alex Barron , Luis Diaz , Al Unser Sr. , Marty Roth , Carl Haas , Kosuke Matsuura , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , A.J. Foyt Jr. , Brian Barnhart , Ed Carpenter , Johnny Rutherford , Thiago Medeiros , Arie Luyendyk Jr.