INDYCAR, sanctioning body for the IZOD IndyCar Series, has elected to make changes to the Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) for the 96th Indianapolis 500 scheduled for May 27.
In the past ROP featured four segments with increasing speeds to be held for 10 laps each; the program will now consist of three speed phases while continuing to run for a total of 40 laps around the flat, 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Phase I will now consist of 10 laps at speed ranging from 200 to 205 mph; Phase II engages the driver in 15 laps ranging from 205 to 210 mph while Phase III focuses on 15 laps of 210 mph and over. Officials use data and car settings monitoring as drivers progress through the three segments.
INDYCAR appointed driver coach and two-time Indianapolis winner Arie Luyendyk to oversee ROP on behalf of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Luyendyk made 17 straight starts in the Indy 500, was 1985 Rookie of the Year and holds the track four-lap (236.986 mph) and one-lap (237.498 mph) qualifying records.
He'll work together with Beaux Barfield, IZOD IndyCar Series race director and president of competition. Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champion and driver for KV Racing Technology serves as a driver advisor for the program, scheduled for May 10.
"As we head into preparations for the Indianapolis 500, we felt it was important to have ROP pace our rookie drivers through more quality laps at relevant speeds," said Barfield. "Our emphasis will focus on car control, car placement and a consistent driving pattern in addition to the speed benchmarks.
"We have a great wealth of experience in the paddock that we can utilize to prepare these drivers for their first run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," he continued. "Arie will be a great resource -- from a general racing line to reading the wind to prepare for entry into Turn 1. Additionally, it is beneficial to have a current driver such as Tony on hand to speak specifically on driving the new car at Indianapolis."
ROP takes place from 9AM to 2:30PM on May 10 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Phase I and II must be completed during this time or during other rookie-only sessions to be scheduled by INDYCAR on May 12 and May 13. Phase III may be completed at any time the track is open to all cars.
"It's really good for the rookies to have the opportunity to have guys like us to talk to them and give them insight," Luyendyk explained. "I'll share a lot of my experiences - stuff that catches you and before you know it you're out. No matter how many times you drive on this racetrack, there's always something to learn."
The rookie class is quite experienced and includes just-announced Jean Alesi, Rubens Barrichello, Bryan Clauson, Wade Cunningham, Katherine Legge, James Jakes, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud. All Indianapolis 500 rookies - together with returning driver Michel Jourdain Jr - must pass the program in its entirety before they are permitted to participate in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Indy 500 veteran Sebastien Bourdais will participate in a May 10 refresher program.
Alesi's deal with Firestone Indy Lights team Fan Force United was confirmed today, giving the 13-year Formula One veteran an opportunity to compete in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, a desire he first expressed last September. The official paperwork was submitted to INDYCAR on May 8 for a Lotus-powered Dallara. Alesi, 47, is a Lotus ambassador and his personal sponsor, FP Journe - a Swiss watchmaker - is the primary sponsor.
Fan Force United's ownership includes former Indy car driver Tyce Carlson, Jason Peters, Scott Williamson and Chris Williams; they have two entries in the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 25 (first-timer Emerson Newton-John and Firestone Indy Lights regular Armaan Ebrahim). Former Indy car team owner Greg Beck is the team manager, Indy 500-winning engineer Tim Wardrop and and Ted Bitting are part of the staff for this effort.
"Our goal has always been to win the Indy 500," Williams said, "but first you must qualify and we are working hard to achieve that with Jean and Lotus. Our team has a huge amount of experience, which will hopefully help Jean to achieve his goals."
"I feel ready for the Indy 500, but also I am very happy to be doing the rookie test ahead of real practice," said Alesi, who spent two days at Dallara's Italian factory learning about the Speedway and car set-ups on its sophisticated simulator. "This will give me time to gain confidence and the feeling for the car and the track. The race is now just three weeks away, and we're going to be working flat out up to that date.
"We've been talking about this race for a long time and trying to find the right team to go with. I'm very happy to be joining Fan Force United. Lotus believes it's the right place for me to be, and I trust the team completely and am sure we will do a super job," he said.
Lotus' statement said of Alesi's entry, "It's going to be very interesting to see how far natural skill can get him."