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Indy 500: Buddy Lazier helping Jean Alesi get up to speed

Buddy Lazier has been drafted in by Fan Force United and Lotus to help coach former F1 driver up to speed on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Former Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier was back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, helping to coach Jean Alesi through the intricacies of speedway oval racing.

"It's so cool: the month of May, Opening Day and now the second day, and these new cars look like a lot of fun!" he said on Sunday. "And for a race driver it is really fun to sort out a new car because there are so many different things you can play with."

Lazier confirmed that he'd been asked in on a professional basis to help out Alesi's Indy 500 bid.

"Yes, I am here in an official capacity helping out," he said. "A friend of mine put this together so I am helping out."

Alesi is still to pass his Rookie Orientation Program, which is required before he's eligible to join qualifying and make it onto the starting grid for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. After New Zealand rookie Wade Cunningham completed his ROP on Sunday, only Alesi - and Katherine Legge, if Dragon Racing ever manage to line up an engine for her - remain to complete the program.

The third and final phase of ROP requires consistent laps about 210mph, and on the second day of practice at IMS Alesi's time in the former Lotus engine test Dallara topped out at 205.265mph as the former Ferrari F1 driver continued to get used to the feel of oval racing.

Rubens Barrichello knows something of what Alesi's going through, although his more recent F1 experience combined with four street and road course races in the car and an oval test session last week at Texas Motor Speedway put him much further down the path than Alesi at this point. And, it has to be said, Barrichello benefits from a slightly superior engine, with his KV Racing car boasting a Chevy V6 to the Lotus at the back of Alesi's chassis.

Barrichello was 10mph quicker on the ovals on Sunday, but that wasn't to say that he was having it all his own way, either.

"Early on we were able to improve our speed a little, but since then every change we have done hasn't been a positive result," he said. "At the end of the day, I got Tony [Kanaan] to drive my car because I needed to see if I was developing the car in the right way or not. He was getting the same speed as me, so that gives me more confidence to carry on my work.

"It is only the second day, and luckily at Indianapolis I have another week to practice," he added.

Meanwhile, Buddy Lazier was finding that he'd much rather be out on track as a competitor than as a coach. "It is hard to watch, he admitted. "It is just too painful for me to watch. When it isn't painful anymore, then it is probably time [to quit.]

"But it looks like too much fun, and I would just love to be out there driving," he added. "Obviously at my age I'm still very open to driving a few more years, especially here at Indianapolis because it is such a special place."

He confirmed that he was still very much up for the challenge of this year's race if anything opened up.

"Trust me, if someone is looking for someone to put in a race car, I would love to be the one, that is for sure!" he said. "But there just isn't a lot of equipment floating around. It's a new year with new cars and new motors, so there isn't a lot of excess equipment. But you never know; I'm here!"

Late openings and last-minute drivers have certainly been known to happen in past years, so Lazier might yet make the field in time for qualifying this weekend.

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Rubens Barrichello during the Indy 500 Rookie Orientation Program on 10 May, 2012.(c) 2012, Walt Kuhn.LAT Photo USA [Photo Credit: INDYCAR/LAT USA]
Jean Alesi on track during the Indy 500 Rookie Orientation Program on 10 May, 2012.(c) 2012, Walt Kuhn.LAT Photo USA [Photo Credit: INDYCAR/LAT USA]
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