IRL: Rookie drivers ready for Indy 500 orientation

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, April 17, 2003 -- A crop of eight rookie drivers are set to participate in the 2003 Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program on April 21 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rookie tests have been administered at the ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, April 17, 2003 -- A crop of eight rookie drivers are set to participate in the 2003 Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program on April 21 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rookie tests have been administered at the Speedway since 1936. The Rookie Orientation Program is an opportunity for rookie drivers to get experience on the famous 2.5-mile oval before the veterans arrive for Opening Day on May 4. The 87th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for an 11 a.m. (EST) start on Sunday, May 25.

Buddy Rice, Tony Renna and Vitor Meira are rookies at the Indianapolis 500 but are not rookies for the remaining Indy Racing League IndyCar^Ù Series events because they competed in at least three events in 2002.

Rice, driver of the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, finished second at Michigan in July 2002, his first IndyCar Series race. Renna, driver of the No. 32 Cure Autism Now/HomeMed Dallara/Toyota/Firestone for Kelley Racing, competed in six races for the team last year, scoring four top-10 finishes including a career-best fourth at Michigan.

Meira won the pole for the season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Sept. 2002 driving for Team Menard. He finished third at Texas and is entered in the No. 22 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Tora Takagi also is not considered a rookie in the IndyCar Series due to his CART experience but will be a rookie at the Speedway. Takagi, driver of the No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, started third and finished eighth in his native country at the Indy Japan 300 on April 13 at Twin Ring Motegi.

A.J. Foyt IV, the 2002 IRL Infiniti Pro Series champion and grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, is expected to participate in ROP driving the No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Foyt is second in the IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year points behind Roger Yasukawa, who is also scheduled to participate in ROP driving the No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

Dan Wheldon, who is entered in the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing, started fifth and finished seventh in Japan subbing for injuried AGR teammate Dario Franchitti. He also made two starts for Panther Racing in 2002.

Scott Mayer is also expected to participate in the No. 18 Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for PDM Racing. Mayer has a best finish this season of 19th, at Phoenix.

One of the requirements during the rookie test is the completion of four speed phases, which will be determined on the morning of the test by IRL officials. Drivers must complete at least 10 consecutive laps at the four speed levels.

Rookies also are 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 Brian Barnhart, senior vice president of racing operations for the IRL, will observe the tests.

Fans are welcome to watch ROP free of charge from the South Terrace Grandstands -- located directly south of the Speedway's Hall of Fame Museum and between the oval's Turns 1 and 2 -- free of charge.

A limited number of reserved-seat Race Day tickets for the Indianapolis 500 remain available. General admission and reserved tickets for practice, qualifications and Race Day can be purchased on the World Wide Web via www.imstix.com or by calling the IMS Ticket Office at (800) 822-INDY or (317) 492-6700.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers A.J. Foyt IV , Tora Takagi , Dan Wheldon , Al Unser Sr. , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Tony Renna , Scott Mayer , A.J. Foyt , Jim Beam , Johnny Rutherford , Mo Nunn , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing