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Five complete Indy rookie orientation

10 May 2012

Five of the Indianapolis 500 rookies aiming to enter the 96th running of the race have completed the Rookie Orientation Program, required before they are eligible to take part in qualifying.

Josef Newgarden, Bryan Clauson, James Jakes, Simon Pagenaud and Rubens Barrichello are all now cleared to run in the practice sessions that begin on Saturday ahead of next weekend's qualifying.

"I want to thank IndyCar for having the ROP,” said Barrichello after the day's work. "It allows you to progress gradually without too much pressure, so I was at ease with my car and the whole process."

In addition to the formal rookies required to take ROP, Michel Jourdain Jr. completed the same process in the form of a refresher course as this will be his first run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 16 years.

"It's fantastic. I was really enjoying it out there," said Jourdain Jr. "This was a starting point. I wanted to be patient, get through it with not making any stupid mistakes and go little by little. I think we did that."

"Today was all about getting through the test," said Jourdain Jr.'s car owner, Bobby Rahal. "You don't have the car trimmed out - it's just get through it and get on with it. It's as much about making sure we're ready to go on Saturday. I'm really pleased."

Dale Coyne Racing's James Jakes completed ROP last year but then failed to qualify for the race itself. He was asked to re-take ROP again this year, and insisted that he didn't mind in the least after setting the top time of all eight drivers with a best lap of 41.2338s (218.268 mph.)

"It's only ROP, but we sailed through the first three stages and it went well," he said. "I think I would have happy going straight out there, but it's good. You never complain about getting free laps on free tyres, you know. I think it's good, and I think they should maybe have a refresher day for everybody."

Simon Pagenaud's day was briefly interrupted when his car hit a bird, damaging a screen over the radiator intake. The bird, unfortunately, came off worse in the encounter.

"I saw the birds, but I didn't know one of them hit it. I didn't even know it was in the car. I just thought they flew away," said Pagenaud. "Usually you feel it when you hit something, but I didn't even feel it."

The IndyCar organisers have changed the ROP process this year, reducing the number of phases involved from four to three. In phase 1, drivers have to complete 10 laps at consistent lines and speeds between 200 and 205 mph; phase 2 ups that to 15 laps at speeds ranging from 205 to 210 mph, and phase 3 requires 15 laps at 210 mph and over.

All five rookies and Jourdain Jr. completed all three phases, while Aj Foyt Racing's Wade Cunningham completed phases 1 and 2 but still has the final phase to complete.

Jean Alesi was the eighth driver in action at IMS on Thursday, in his first time in the Fan Force United car. Understandably, for the former F1 Ferrari driver, Thursday was more about simply getting the feel of an IndyCar for the first time and not necessarily worrying about ROP just yet. An issue with his Lotus engine's turbo boost also stopped him running too many laps.

"I've been in motorsports for a long time but haven't driven on an oval, so I've very happy to have accomplished this part," he said after his first 18 laps on Thursday, with a best lap of 48.2866s (186.387mph.) "I will rest better now. You have a tension when you go out of the pit, but as soon as you change gears and go up with the speed you feel in your world."

Cunningham will have a chance to complete ROP - and Alesi the opportunity to start his - in an extra 90 minute session scheduled for Friday at 4.30pm local time, after Thursday's running not only had more participants than ROP usually has, but was also truncated by cold conditions in the morning and by media commitments in the afternoon.

If either of them fail to complete phase 3, they will still be able to complete the certification process during the open practice sessions that run from Saturday through to Fast Friday next week.

Two further drivers - Dragon Racing's Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge - were also due to take part in the Thursday's activities but were not able to do so, following the team's acrimonious split with Lotus at the end of last week that has left them without any engines to use in their cars.

"It was tough to see the cars at ROP and not be joining them," tweeted Legge, who is an Indy 500 rookie. "We hope to be on track soon to do my ROP though."

Bourdais is not a rookie, but he has not raced on the oval at IMS since 2005 and has therefore been requested to complete the refresher course on the same basis as Jourdain Jr.

Rookie orientation program session 1

1. #19 James Jakes (H) 218.268mph 41.2338s (77 laps)
2. #39 Bryan Clauson (H) 217.046mph 41.4659s + 0.2321s (54 laps)
3. #67 Josef Newgarden (H) 216.573mph 41.5564s + 0.3226s (47 laps)
4. #8 Rubens Barrichello (C) 214.083mph 42.0397s + 0.8059s (83 laps)
5. #77 Simon Pagenaud (H) 214.055mph 42.0452s + 0.8114s (93 laps)
6. #30 Michel Jourdain (H) 213.633mph 42.1284s + 0.8946s (73 laps)
7. #41 Wade Cunningham (H) 210.318mph 42.7923s + 1.5585s (57 laps)
8. #64 Jean Alesi (L) 186.387mph 48.2866s + 7.0528s (18 laps)

Total Laps: 502
(H) Honda, (C) Chevrolet, (L) Lotus


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