Six of the seven rookies new to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an IndyCar have successfully completed the entire mandatory Rookie Orientation Program (ROP), clearing their way to participate in practice and qualifying for the centennial Indianapolis 500.

James Jakes (Dale Coyne Racing) still has the fourth and final phase of ROP to complete after suffering some teething mechanical problems during the session, but having passed the other three phases he is allowed to do that during any of next week's day-long practice sessions.

Along with Jakes, JR Hildebrand (National Guard Panther Racing), James Hinchcliffe (Newman/Haas Racing), Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing), Pippa Mann (Conquest Racing), Scott Speed (Fuzzy's Vodka Dragon Racing) and Ho-Pin Tung (Schmidt Dragon Racing) all took to the track during the near-six-hour session at IMS on Thursday.

Few of the drivers were expected to have any difficulties with the rookie program. Kimball, Hildebrand, Hinchcliffe and Mann have all driven the Speedway in previous years in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 support race, with Mann even qualifying on pole for the event last year (the first female pole sitter for a major race at IMS.)

James Hinchcliffe recorded the most laps (101), while JR Hildebrand was first to complete and set the quickest lap at 221.533 (on Lap 59 of his 68 for the day). "All done with ROP, no stress," he tweeted, "Now gettin' on with our program for the rest of the day."

Charlie Kimball finished off his four phases before lunch, so they were among those drivers able to use the remaining time to carry on with a program of car and track familiarisation. "Worked through ROP phases and now focused on the rest of the program," he told Twitter.

Pippa Mann tweeted "Completed all 4 phases of ROP and ran 219 without a tow! Pretty happy with that for day 1!" Later, she told the media that "I really enjoyed it. It surprised me how difficult it was to stay within the limits that were set [but] we completed all 35 laps of ROP in 35 laps so the boss is happy."

Scott Speed has also competed here on the oval in the NASCAR Brickyard 400, and in open wheel cars in the now-defunct US F1 Grand Prix (on a modified circuit) so he had little trouble either, leaving only Ho-Pin Tung and James Jakes lacking either oval or IMS experience in their careers to date. Tung - helped by his driver coach Jeff Andretti - quickly polished off the required phases and was the second driver of the day to complete ROP with no problems, but Jakes was the last driver left out on track and ran out of track time before he was able to complete the fourth phase of ROP.

The day started with the drivers being chauffeured round the 2.5 mile oval at a sedate 100 mph in a Chevrolet Impala by the likes of Al Unser Jr. and two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk who were giving their rookie charges some tips and tricks. Then the rookies got to work for themselves.

The test consists of running ten consistent laps at a speed of between 200-205 mph, then another run of ten laps at 205-210 mph, and a third run of ten laps holding the car steady between 210-215 mph. All drivers were required to complete these three phases on Thursday, and all seven rookies duly did so.

A fourth and final phase then requires the drivers to run a further ten consistent laps at speeds of over 215mph, which can either be done as part of the rookie orientation day or alternatively can be undertaken next week during the daily general practice sessions, when all cars will be at the Speedway.

"They can complete the fourth phase then at any time during the week of practice prior to qualifications," said Brian Barnhart, IndyCar's president of competition and racing operations, in advance of the ROP session. "That's easy enough to do because the fourth phase is anything at speed so they're able to be at speed with other traffic out there and not be trying to run phases while other people are running different speeds."

Jakes is the only driver of the seven not to also complete this fourth phase, and who will now need to undertake this final part of the test next week.

The sessions were open to the public free of charge, and took place two days before the official "Opening Day" on Saturday which formally starts the build-up to the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. "Instead of having it embedded in the practice days, it's nice to move it out before the activities actually begin by a couple of days," explained Barnhart. "It provides a better atmosphere for the rookies to get familiar with the racetrack to run through their phases."

Britain's Jay Howard is also listed as a rookie for this year's Indianapolis 500, but he undertook the Rookie Orientation Program last year and was not required to re-certify. He came close to qualifying but narrowly missed out on making the 33-car grid in 2010 after the team, Sarah Fisher Racing, gambled on withdrawing his previously set time in order to try to improve it with a final late run. He is keen to make the field this year and lose that "rookie" status at last.

Rookie Orientation Day

1. #4 JR Hildebrand 221.533mph 40.6260s after 68 laps
2. #8 Ho-Pin Tung 220.477mph 40.8206s + 0.1946s after 53 laps
3. #06 James Hinchcliffe 219.664mph 40.9716s + 0.3456s after 101 laps
4. #83 Charlie Kimball 219.602mph 40.9833s + 0.3573s after 73 laps
5. #8 Scott Speed 219.227mph 41.0534s + 0.4274s after 37 laps
6. #36 Pippa Mann 219.166mph 41.0647s + 0.4387s after 35 laps
7. #18 James Jakes 214.563mph 41.9457s + 1.3197s after 51 laps

Total laps run today: 418

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment