After making his oval début the previous day in a curtailed first rookie session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jean Alesi got down to serious work on Friday evening and started tackling the mandatory Rookie Orientation Program.
"It's fast," he admitted of his first experience running over 200 mph on the 2.5 mile speedway. "It's extremely important to concentrate all the time. You can't go on the track and be relaxed. I respect very much the Indianapolis racetrack, now!"
Despite only 90 minutes being available at the end of a day which had been mostly given over to practice for the Firestone Indy Lights teams, Alesi completed the first two of three phases of ROP without any problems.
All drivers who have not competed in the Indianapolis 500 before are required to undertake ROP before they are eligible to run in qualifying to get onto the 33-car starting grid for the race. Eight drivers on the entry list this year are rookies, including Alesi and his fellow former F1 graduate Rubens Barrichello.
Barrichello fully completed his ROP requirements on Thursday, along with Josef Newgarden, Bryan Clauson, James Jakes and Simon Pagenaud. In addition, Michel Jourdain Jr. also completed the same program in the form of a refresher course, as he has not raced at IMS since 1996. AJ Foyt Racing's Wade Cunningham completed the first two phases of ROP, which allows him to go on and complete the program during normal practice sessions which start tomorrow and run all week.
Because of teething problems yesterday with the Fan Force United car's Lotus engine turbo boost, Alesi was only able to run 18 laps on Thursday in a session that was in any case curtailed by cold weather first thing and media commitments at the facility in the afternoon. Alesi used the time to simply get used to the concept of oval runs and the feel of the car, and postponed his formal ROP trial until the Friday evening opportunity - when it turned out that he had the place to himself.
Alesi seemed to have little problem with the first phase, during which drivers have to complete 10 laps at consistent lines and speeds between 200 and 205 mph. After a brief break for the team to give the car a quick check and tune-up, Alesi then went back out and completed phase 2, which required 15 laps at speeds between 205 and 210 mph.
Alesi's best time was 43.0673s at a speed of 208.975 mph, with the average time during phase 2 some two miles per hour slower. Alesi showed great lap-by-lap consistency and did not appear to be finding it at all difficult to maintain the consistent line. It did seem that the car didn't have a lot more speed in it, which could be an issue when it comes to completing phase 3 in which 15 laps at speeds over 210 mph are required. However, the team pointed out that by this stage on Friday Alesi was in any case running on tyres nearing their end of life, having completed a total of 39 laps in the session.
Alesi said afterwards that completing the first two phases without any setbacks "was very important to me, obviously, because it's all new ... The car, the circuit are new and it's been a long time since I drove a single-seater."