Though four rookies competed in the first three IndyCar Series events of the season, those races were akin to dipping their feet into the water. Now, they're about to take the plunge.

Next Tuesday [5 May], Stanton Barrett, Mike Conway, Robert Doornbos and Raphael Matos will begin preparations for the 2009 Indianapolis 500 and, despite their different racing backgrounds, insist that competing in the Indianapolis 500 has always been a major ambition.

Barrett, a native Californian and the only American in the quartet, claims that he was hooked on the 500 even before he started racing as a teenager.

"I got to go there a couple of times and watch the race before I started racing," the Team 3G driver revealed, "In the '80s and '90s, when I wasn't in racing yet and watching it from a fan standpoint, that was the race to watch. I remember you always wanted to know who won."

Despite his obvious open-wheel interest, Barrett's subsequent racing career took him to stock cars - where he made almost 200 starts between the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series - but he now gets a chance to fulfil his childhood ambition.

"The Indy 500 is at the top of any kid's list," he insisted, "Even a lot of the NASCAR guys would love to [race in it]. When they found out I was going to run the Indy 500, they were like 'man, I want to go to the Indy 500 and watch you - I've always wanted to run the Indy 500'. I think it's a race that, no matter what kind of racing you're in, all those guys would want to race that race."

Conway and Doornbos, meanwhile, grew up in Europe, where Formula One is king, but both kept their eyes on the Indianapolis 500 even as they were making their way up the open-wheel ladder towards the grand prix scene.

"It is very popular in Europe," Dutchman Doornbos said of the blue riband event, "Many people know the race, and a lot of people in Holland are proud that they have another Dutch guy there. If I can only do the same as [two-time winner] Arie [Luyendyk] did, I will be very happy.

"You grow up with Formula One, so that was my dream, my target. To achieve that was great, but you kept an eye on the other side of the ocean, because you knew that they were racing at high speeds on ovals - extremely high speeds. You don't even do that in a Formula One car. I have to be honest, racing in the Indianapolis 500 is another boy's dream come true. I've been there with F1, drove the other way around, but you don't experience the same sense of what it's like. All the drivers who have been there many years keep telling me that it will be the best I've ever experienced, and it still surprises them every year."

Conway, who grew up in England and followed the traditional FRenault, F3 and GP2 path to get to the fringes of F1 with a test deal at Honda, echoed his rival's sentiments.

"When [Dan] Wheldon won it, and Dario [Franchitti], that was massive - it was big news back in the UK," he said, "I suppose I won't really appreciate how big it is until I get there and experience it myself, but I can't wait."

For Matos, meanwhile, having competed in the Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis last year still means the 500 will be an emotional experience.

"It means a lot," the Brazilian admitted, "Since I was seven years old, the Indy 500 was always the day my father and I would sit down in front of the TV and watch the race together. For me, it's a huge not only accomplishment, but also emotional time.

"I'm going to try and put that part behind us, the emotional part, and try to get the job done. It's an unbelievable feeling for us, the whole team, and I think we'll be very competitive there."

The four drivers, and Indy-only rookie Nelson Philippe, will participate in the mandatory Rookie Orientation Programme over 5-6 May, before practice opens for all drivers on Wednesday afternoon.