Rubens Barrichello may be making his IndyCar debut in 2012, but he won't be termed a “rookie” – that distinction will go to three drivers. IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield announced Thursday that Simon Pagenaud, Katherine Legge and Josef Newgarden will compete for the 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
Barrichello's only official rookie distinction will come in the month of May at the Indianapolis 500. However, Barrichello will be required to go through the necessary amount of oval testing as part of his orientation into the series.
"Plain and simple, it comes down to Rubens having too much experience," Barfield said. "He'll still need to pass oval testing, and that won't be a problem. It's not only the experience factor, but there are other advantages built in that he could potentially get. There's extra track time in the first practice and more sets of tires available, that would have to be answered for. This group is a rookie group that I'm comfortable with, and holds to precedent since before I got to IndyCar."
The distinction was made based on historical precedent and the drivers' respective history. The closest comparable example would be 2008, the year of open-wheel unification, when Justin Wilson, Will Power and Graham Rahal – who all had prior Champ Car experience – were designated rookies primarily due to a lack of substantial oval experience. Wilson had five, Power one and Rahal zero oval starts entering the 2008 IndyCar season.
Similarly, Pagenaud and Legge enter their first full IndyCar seasons even though they have a combined three years of Champ Car experience. Pagenaud's 17 career starts – none on ovals – are split from 14 his singular year in Champ Car, in 2007, and three IndyCar races in three different cars last year. Legge started 28 races in two seasons, including one oval race at Milwaukee in 2006, which she led at one point and finished a career-best sixth.
Newgarden, the only true rookie in the field, advances to IndyCar with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing after winning the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights championship.
Drivers that competed in three or fewer 2011 races, such as Martin Plowman, Giorgio Pantano, Wade Cunningham, Pippa Mann, Joao Paulo de Oliviera and Ho-Pin Tung, would still be rookie-eligible for any races they might compete in or at Indianapolis, with the exception of Mann – a first-time 500 qualifier a year ago. Plowman's the only one of that group with confirmed 2012 plans, as he'll run the full ALMS season for Eric Bachelart's Conquest Endurance.