All seven of this year's rookie contenders for May 29's Indianapolis 500 – JR Hildebrand (National Guard Panther Racing), James Hinchcliffe (Newman/Haas Racing), Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing), Ho-Pin Tung (Schmidt Dragon Racing), James Jakes (Dale Coyne Racing), Scott Speed (Dragon Racing) and Pippa Mann (Conquest Racing) – completed at least three phases of the Rookie Orientation Program Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jakes – who is driving for the first time on an oval during ROP – can complete the fourth phase (10 consistent laps above 215mph) any time before qualifications May 21.
Hildebrand posted the quickest lap at 221.533mph (on lap 59 of his 68 for the day), while Hinchcliffe recorded the most laps (101).
"We were just trying to work our way through [ROP]. We got through the phases pretty easily in the morning and I was having a good time," said Hildebrand. "Buddy Rice, my teammate this year, and I went out on track late yesterday and I got a ride around this morning from Arie [Luyendyk, shown above offering some tips to Kimball]. I felt pretty comfortable right away. Once we got going, I settled in."
"The first couple of laps in the Sprott IndyCar were certainly a wake-up call because I haven't been on an oval in a long time – since Homestead last October," related Hinchcliffe. "The speed was a bit of a refresher the first couple of laps but as I got up to speed, again, like I said on the road and street courses, the car is a pretty logical progression from the Indy Lights car so I was very happy to see that.
"Obviously, we were running a very conservative setup today just to make sure we got through Day 1 and rookie orientation. The car felt very good and the team worked well today. I am getting acclimated with the spotters a little bit, which will be important come race time. Overall, I think it was a very good first day on all fronts."
"I really enjoyed it. It surprised me how difficult it was to stay within the limits that were set, especially toward the end when we put on our second set of tires," said Mann, who seeks to make her IZOD IndyCar Series debut in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500. "I went out there and got into a rhythm really quickly, because the new tires have so much grip, but was told to back it down a little. We completed all 35 laps of ROP in 35 laps so the boss [team owner Eric Bachelart] is happy.
Saturday's Opening Day at the Speedway will see the seven ROP participants joined on the 2.5-mile speedway by all entrants for a practice session from noon-6 p.m. ET. The day includes other fan events, including autograph sessions with Parnelli Jones and Danny Sullivan.