10 May 2012
Indy 500 preview: what's in store in May
Today sees the rookies on track for the first time at Indianapolis, ahead of the official Indy 500 "Opening Day" on Saturday. Here's a preview of the next two weeks of activity.
The American motor sports fans do love naming their "days": from Opening Day to Pole Day, then Bump Day to Carb Day and finally Race Day itself, there's a lot of activity in store over the next 17 days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the race itself on Sunday May 27.
Although "Opening Day" is the first day that the Speedway is opened up to all the teams for on-track activity, there have already been a series of events at the facility, starting with the track being used for part of the route of a local mini-marathon through the streets of the city of Indianapolis last Saturday.
Things get down to earth with more serious business from today, Thursday May 10, with the Rookie Orientation and Refresher Program. This is the first on-track action for the Indy 500 rookies and those who haven't run in the race for a while who are bidding to make the starting grid in the coming week. IndyCar officials have to 'sign off' the rookies as oval-worthy before they are eligible to take part in qualifying, but if they run out of time on Thursday then they can still complete the final ROP stage during normal practice sessions the following week.
There are eight rookie drivers listed, including F1 veterans Rubens Barrichello and Jean Alesi. Former Champ Car drivers Katherine Legge and Simon Pagenaud are also Indy 500 rookies, as are Josef Newgarden, Bryan Clauson and Wade Cunningham despite their Firestone Indy Lights series experience at Indianapolis in previous years. The eighth rookie, James Jakes completed ROP in 2011, although he did not qualify for the race itself; usually recertification is not required in such instances, but Jakes is also listed to undergo ROP again in 2012.
Champ Car veteran Michel Jourdain Jr. will be on the refresher program as he hasn't competed in the Indy 500 since 1996, and Sebastien Bourdais is in a similar position having not raced on the speedway since 2005.
After ROP is concluded on the Thursday, Friday then allows the Firestone Indy Lights teams their first taste of IMS with a five hour open test session ahead of the Firestone Freedom 100 support race in a fortnight.
Opening Day itself on Saturday, May 12 sees all the IndyCar teams eligible to take to the track for the first time from noon until 6pm (local time.) That will allow the drivers to get used to the Speedway, and let the teams start dialling in the car to the track conditions.
The rest of the week continues to see the track open every day between noon and 6pm for IndyCar practice, with the morning period being used for Indy Experience two-seater and pace car rides. Last year the week of practice was badly hit by rain which lost the teams a lot of track time and resulted in an outbreak of 'planking' by drivers frustrated and literally bored stuff by the conditions. This year, the question will be how much running the teams want to undertake given the restrictions on engine usage for the season.
Fast Friday on May 18 is when the main contingent of race fans start arriving and the stands fill up with spectators for the final six-hour practice session, which is usually when the teams are fine-tuning their qualifying pace and therefore should see some of the fastest laps of the week so far.
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