Six drivers completed the three required speed phases during Rookie Orientation Program activities May 10 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, James Jakes of Dale Coyne Racing, Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and Rubens Barrichello of KV Racing Technology completed the 40-lap test, clearing the way for them to compete in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 27. Michel Jourdain Jr., who last raced at Indianapolis in 1996, also completed the speed phases.
Wade Cunningham of A.J. Foyt Racing completed two of the three phases. He, along with Jean Alesi (ABOVE) of Fan Force United, can complete the final phase when ROP resumes at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
The Rookie Orientation Program is designed to provide first-year drivers an informal opportunity to get acquainted with the 2.5-mile oval. The three speed phases, which were set by IndyCar based on the weather and track conditions, were: Phase 1: 10 laps at 200-205mph; Phase 2: 15 laps at 205-210mph; and Phase 3: 15 Laps at 210mph-plus.
"I think we were pleasantly surprised by our times. It kind of snuck up on us really," said Newgarden. "It's definitely quicker than we expected. I wouldn't be surprised to see us in the 220s by the end of next week or maybe even earlier – they're definitely going to get quicker than people realized." (Particularly after IndyCar announced that turbocharger boost would be increased for qualifying – click here for story).
"I think we were really comfortable today, we came in with a very conservative approach, but we seemed to be able to run around 216 all day at the moment, which is encouraging if you're able to run comfortably and take everything easy to start with,: the Sarah Fisher Hartman driver added. "If we're able to do that so early, then that's not a bad sign.
"I think the biggest thing is that this is a long process. Indy Lights is a junior series, and it's like a junior weekend when you come here. You run pretty much a regular race weekend. Whereas you now have a lot of time, you've got to go through things, so you have to use that time and that process the right way. All the guys that have been here a long time, the Penskes and the Ganassis, they know how to take the time and use it properly, and use it to their advantage. That's the big thing I think I have to learn as a rookie, is to take the time and try to make the most of it."
Jakes set the fastest lap of the session, running a lap of 41.2338 seconds, 218.268 mph in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. Jakes failed to qualify last year, so still ranks as a rookie at Indy.
"I have mixed memories of this place," Jakes said. "Obviously, I love driving around here. There's no place like it, but going home last year was probably one of the lowest points of my racing career. I've never not been able to get into a race before, and it really got to me last year. But we said this year we wouldn't be in the same situation, and we've started things the right way. It's only ROP, but we sailed through the first three stages and it went well.
"I think I would have happy going straight out there, but it's good. You never complain about getting free laps on free tires, you know. I think it's good, and I think they should maybe have a refresher day for everybody. You know, when you come from another track the speeds are so much greater here than everywhere else, and all it takes is one mistake to have a big accident. So I think the idea of the ROP is good."
For Alesi, the 18 laps he turned in the No. 64 Lotus- FP Journe-Fan Force United Lotus were his initial laps in an IndyCar Series car as well as his first-ever laps on an oval.
"There's a first time for everything," said the 47-year-old Frenchman, a veteran of Formula 1 who raced in DTM touring cars following his retirement from F1. "It's a big day and I'm very happy to be in Indianapolis on this great racetrack with Lotus.
"I will rest better now. You have a tension when you go out of the pit, but as soon as you change gears and go up with the speed you feel in your world. I've been in motorsports for a long time but haven't driven on an oval, so I've very happy to have accomplished this part."
For Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Michel Jourdain Jr., ROP was just as much of a revelation. The Mexican driver is returning to Indy car racing for the first time since his stint with Rahal's team in th Champ Car series.
"It was fantastic. I was thinking in the car when I was doing the laps 'This is so much fun.'" said Jourdain, 35. "I'm not going to say that it feels like yesterday that I was here, but it doesn't feel like 16 years ago!
"The car feels really stable. The team did a test here about a month ago with Takuma [Sato] and the car feels really stable; perfect to do the refresher phases today. I thought I was going to be much more nervous but it felt really good. I was quite comfortable and relaxed – at home. I treated it with a lot of respect and built up to the speed. In the beginning I tried to not feel any pressure to do a certain lap time. I just tried to be smart and patient.
"The only goal was to get through these phases today. Tonight I have a lot to sleep on. The last couple of years I haven't been sleeping that good but I slept through the night last night and woke up to the alarm which was really good. These things make me quite happy. I feel relaxed; I don't know how I look but I feel really good. I felt at home in the car and I'm very, very happy."