Rookies Kick Off 2009 Indy 500

| , RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 5 2009
Driver Raphael Matos gets instructions from crew chief Ray Leto during ROP at Indy on Tuesday. 


Driver Raphael Matos gets instructions from engineer Ray Leto during ROP at Indy on Tuesday.


Four rookies passed the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program Tuesday as preparations began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 2009 Indianapolis 500. The track was open for six rookies to participate in ROP. Three veterans were allowed to complete “refresher” laps.

Mike Conway, Robert Doornbos, Raphael Matos and Alex Tagliani completed all four phases of ROP, demonstrating consistent driving through four speed ranges beginning at 200 mph and increasing in 5 mph increments.

“I think this place is great,” Doornbos said. “I sleep at the track, I eat at the track, I drive at the track, do everything at the track. It’s going to be an intense month. It’s different that when I was here in Formula One in 2005 and 2006. You just fly in for the weekend and fly out. Just from this morning I began to feel some of the history of the track, and the speed down the straight – I just love it. It wasn’t intimidating at all as long as you respect the track. If you get to thinking you can be the fastest on the first day, you’ll find yourself in the wall. You respect the place, and you build up to it. We got some good speed today. There isn’t a big oval feeling to the track. It’s more like two long straightaways and four fast corners which are very much alike.”

Conway said, “The first run was a bit daunting. It’s a big place here and a lot of high speed. Once I did the first run, I came back to the garages and sat down and thought about it. I felt a lot more comfortable and relaxed in the second run, which is the way that you have to be in these cars, just relaxed and feel what’s going on. Overall, I’m really happy with the runs we had today. We learned a lot with the car and made some good setup changes, so I think we are looking great for tomorrow.”

Paul Tracy, a veteran of five Indianapolis 500s who made his last start in 2002, turned the fastest lap of the day at 40.3426 seconds, 223.089 mph around the historic 2.5-mile oval.

“We took advantage of today, with the refresher course,” Tracy said. “There’s rain in the forecast the next couple days possibly – the weather can change here at any time, so I’m pretty happy with where we’re at right now.” 

Thirteen-time starter Scott Sharp had the second-fastest lap at 221.878 mph.

“It feels great,” Sharp said. “There was obviously a lot of anticipation and a lot of excitement surrounding the whole opportunity with Patron and Panther Racing. To get out here and finally start doing it today, it was great. It feels so good to be back. By lap one, it felt like I was back in the old shoe again. It really felt good.”

Rookie Nelson Philippe completed the first three phases of ROP, while Stanton Barrett completed two. An additional ROP session is scheduled for Wednesday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. before the track opens for all drivers.

Also on Tuesday, Sebastian Saavedra topped a Firestone Indy Lights Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Twenty-one drivers had five hours to prepare for the Firestone Freedom 100, which will be run May 22.

Saavedra, who won the April 26 race at Kansas Speedway, turned a best lap of 47.0520 seconds, 191.278 mph. 2006 race winner Wade Cunningham was second at 190.969 mph, Martin Plowman was third and J.R. Hildebrand was fourth.

| , RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 5 2009
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