Veteran ‘Rookies’ OK’d For The 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 11 2012

Jean Alesi was one of a large handful of drivers participating in the Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Six drivers have completed the three required speed phases during Rookie Orientation Program activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while Jean Alesi joined the short list of former Formula One regulars successfully logging his first oval-track experience.

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 them to compete in the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Michel Jourdain Jr., who last raced at IMS in 1996, also completed the speed phases.

Meanwhile, Wade Cunningham of A.J. Foyt Racing completed two-of-three phases. Cunningham and Alesi, of Fan Force United, were eligible to complete the final phase when ROP resumed late Friday afternoon on the 2.5-mile oval.

The 18 laps Alesi turned Thursday in the No. 64 Lotus – FP Journe – Fan Force United Dallara/Lotus were his first in an IZOD IndyCar Series car as well as his first circuits on an oval.

“There’s a first time for everything,” said Alesi, 47, a 13-year F1 veteran. “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’m very happy to have accomplished this part.”

Barrichello, a 19-year veteran in F1, expressed similar sentiments after passing his oval test on the high-banked, 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway layout Monday morning. As was the case in Fort Worth, Barrichello was able to lean on teammate and fellow-Brazilian Tony Kanaan for setup advice in his No. 8 BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Dallara/Chevrolet at IMS.

“I enjoyed (ROP) very much,” said Barrichello, who will turn 40 on May 23. “I want to thank IndyCar for

Michel Jourdain Jr. sits in cockpit in the Indy pits. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

having the ROP session. It allows you to progress gradually without too much pressure, so I was at ease with my car and the whole process. I have a great teacher in Tony and the whole team seemed to be out here, even the mechanics and engineers from Tony and E.J. (Viso’s) car, so everyone was here to help me out. Overall, I had a very successful day and look forward to practice again on Saturday.”

The Rookie Orientation Program is designed to provide first-year drivers an informal opportunity to get acquainted with IMS. The three speed phases, set by INDYCAR based upon the weather and track conditions, were: Phase 1 _ 10 laps at 200-205 mph; Phase 2 _ 15 laps at 205-210 mph and Phase 3 _ 15 Laps at 210 mph-plus.

Jourdain Jr., who has returned to IMS with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, quickly worked off the rust after a 16-year absence.

“It was fantastic,” said Jourdain, driver of the No. 30 Office Depot/RLL Racing Dallara/Honda. “I was thinking in the car when I was doing the laps, ‘This is so much fun!’ 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. 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.”

Jakes cracked the fastest lap of the session – 41.2338-seconds at 218.268 mph in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda. “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 (after failing to qualify) 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. 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.

“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.”

General Motors has exhausted its attempts to prevent IndyCar Series rival Honda’s use of a revised compressor cover for its single turbocharged 2.2-liter V-6 engine. On Wednesday, retired Indiana Supreme Court Justice Theodore R. Boehm denied an appeal filed on April 30 and upheld INDYCAR’s

Bryan Clauson has been cleared to drive. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

decision to approve use of a 0.71 A/R compressor cover for Honda’s single turbo.

INDYCAR approved use of the compressor cover used by Honda on April 18. GM protested INDYCAR’s decision and a panel denied the protest in a hearing on April 28. Pursuant to Rule 13.11, the appeal decision is final and binding. In his role as Appeal Official, and pursuant to rule 13.4, Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR president of operations and strategy, elected to utilize Justice Boehm.

Chevrolet – which has won all four street/road-course events in 2012 with Team Penske drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves – and Lotus both employ Borg-Warner twin-turbochargers on their V-6 engines. Honda is the only supplier utilizing Borg-Warner’s single turbo.

Turbocharger boost levels will increase for “Fast Friday” and the two days of qualifications for the Indianapolis 500. The standard boost level of 130 kPa (kilopascals) for superspeedways will be upped to 140 kPa for the May 18 practice session, Pole Day on May 19 and Bump Day on May 20. The increase will result in the addition of 40-50 horsepower. The boost level will be 130 kPa for all other practice days and Race Day on May 27.

INDYCAR set boost levels for the Borg-Warner single and twin turbochargers utilized by Chevy, Honda and Lotus before the season based on testing. It also will be 130 kPa for the superspeedway events run at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Boost level for The Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway short tracks is 140 kpa, while it remains 155 kpa for road and street circuits.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 11 2012
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