Alesi completes first two ROP phases
11 May 2012
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."
Alesi added that it had turned out to be an advantage holding his ROP laps over to Friday. "Doing all the phases alone really helped me," he said. "I enjoyed it very much. It went very well. I had good feedback from the car and the track and I learned a lot."
Despite the Firestone Indy Lights Fan Force United team being a very small operation, it doesn't lack for technical team members with formidable expertise of engineering successful Indy 500 cars in the past. As well as team owner Tyce Carlson - himself a former Indy Lights race driver with Indy 500 race experience - there's also a former team owner in engineer Greg Beck. Alesi was appreciative of their help getting him quite literally up to speed this week.
"The team around me is very experienced, so anywhere I turn, when I speak to one of the guys, they give me good advice," the 47-year-old French-Sicilian former Ferrari Grand Prix driver said.
Alesi did not have any time left in the day to make an attempt at completing phase 3 on Friday, but in any case he will now - like Cunningham - be able to finish the certification process during the regular six-hour daily practice sessions that start tomorrow from noon local time and run through to Fast Friday on May 18.
The only rookie not to have completed any phases of ROP is Katherine Legge, who has been unable to participate following the acrimonious split between her Dragon Racing team and its former engine suppliers Lotus a week ago.
Since the first two phases of ROP have to be completed before Opening Day on Saturday, that technically means that Legge cannot enter this year's Indy 500; however, given the unusual nature of the situation regarding Dragon, it's likely that IndyCar will find someway of fitting Legge's ROP laps in over the course of the week - providing that the team's engine situation is resolved in time.
Legge's team mate Sebastien Bourdais has also not been able to run, and is required to complete the same speed tests as a refresher course in the same way that Jourdain already has, as the Frenchman has not raced on the oval at IMS since 2005. Since Bourdais is not formally a rookie, the regulations are likely more flexible in his case than in Legge's.