Philippe Passes Test; Rain Halts Day 2 At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 6 2009
Rain stopped the action on Wednesday at Indy.  (IndyCar photo by Ron McQueeney)

Rain stopped the action on Wednesday at Indy. (IndyCar photo by Ron McQueeney)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Frenchman Nelson Philippe became the fifth rookie to pass the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program Wednesday, as a persistent rain prevented veterans from logging their first practice laps of 2009 around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Meanwhile, Indy 500 rookie Alex Tagliani and Conquest Racing made the best of the soggy situation by opening up their Gasoline Alley garage to disappointed fans.

Philippe completed the final phase of the four-step ROP process in the first 35 minutes of practice. Less than 15 minutes later, rain halted all on-track activity. Philippe completed 18 laps, topped by a tour around the 2.5-mile track of 41.3436 seconds/217.688 mph.

“We had an issue where we couldn’t finish Rookie Orientation (Tuesday), but it was easy to finish and pass today,” said Philippe, driver of the No. 00 i drive green Dallara/Honda fielded by HVM Racing. “So, I’m really happy about that. Now I’m excited about getting on track with everyone else.”

Rookie Stanton Barrett and Alex Lloyd, who finished 25th  at IMS as a rookie last year, were the only other drivers to turn laps, combining for 16 before the rains came. Lloyd, fastest rookie on-track in last year’s race, is driving the No. 99 HER Energy Dallara/Honda fielded in a partnership between Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing.

With the final scheduled ROP session cut short, Thursday’s schedule has been expanded to begin at 9:30 a.m. instead of noon. Barrett, the final rookie with two more phases of ROP to pass, will have one hour of track time before the Speedway opens for all cars at 10:30 a.m.

 “I’ve been here in the (Sprint) Cup car, but everywhere you go the Indy cars are a completely different experience,” said Barrett, driver of the No. 98 CURB/Agajanian/Team 3G Racing Dallara/Honda. “It’s pretty dang exciting, as well. It’s a cool place to get around in an Indy car. We’ve only had 30 minutes (of track time) except for this morning. The car is better today than yesterday. It’s comfortable, and I’m really paying attention to my line and the entry and timing. We don’t want to take too big of a bite out of any step of the process. That’s really important for us – that we can’t make mistakes right now and keep the goal and long term in mind.

“It might take us a little while longer to get what our team’s potential and the car’s potential is, but we’ll get there hopefully without any error and get in the Indy 500.”

Tagliani and Conquest Racing thoroughly endeared themselves to curious fans by opening their garage doors. Several fans had a chance to climb into the No. 34 Conquest Racing entry, and Tagliani even let one woman try on his firesuit.

“Before coming here, I was told that it wouldn’t be Indy without rain. I guess that is true, especially with more rain forecasted for the next few days,” said Tagliani, a native of Quebec, who made two points-paying starts for Conquest Racing last season.

Tagliani, who launched his big-time open-wheel career as a CART rookie in 2000, enjoyed his impromptu session with the fans. “They wanted to jump in the car,” Tagliani said. “They thought that the seat was a little bit too tight, and they wondered if they (could) fit in the car. So, I said the best way (to find out) is if you fit in my suit, you fit in the car, so we took the suit out and one person decided to put it on and get in the car. She was pretty surprised we can’t really see in front of you. I answered her, ‘You just want to see the top of the tires – that’s as much as you want to see.’

“Fans come here, and as much as they support you, you need to keep an open mind. (Giving a fan a chance to get in the seat) is a pretty small thing to do. To let them sit in the car is one thing they get to remember, and they had the chance to take some photos, too.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 6 2009
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