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.