By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — With the beginning of the Month of May comes rookie orientation for the four that will attempt to qualify for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27th and the accompanying veteran refresher tests for those attempting to qualify at Indianapolis that don’t compete full time in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Rookie orientation consists of three speed phases with 10 laps between 205-210 mph, 15 laps between 210-215 mph and another 15 laps above 215 mph. The laps do not have to be consecutive in order for a driver to pass through the phases.
Matheus Leist, Kyle Kaiser and Robert Wickens all took part in rookie orientation but Pietro Fittipaldi was sidelined by a team decision. He will complete orientation on May 15th.
Leist and Kaiser were the first two to finish orientation. Leist had a good situation in that his teammate Tony Kanaan was fastest in yesterday’s open veteran test session. The 2017 Freedom 100 winner for Indy Lights was in a familiar feeling given his Mazda Road to Indy background.
“It’s definitely a big jump from Indy Lights,” said Leist. “I think the car of course has more downforce, it’s faster, but it’s pretty much the same feeling as the (Indy Lights) car.”
The Brazilian was the second driver to complete rookie orientation behind Kaiser, the 2017 Indy Lights champion for Juncos Racing. Kaiser is unique in that Juncos Racing has no veteran teammate to help set up the car to run at Indianapolis.
“I think the team did an amazing job getting the car together,” said Kaiser. “Like some of these guys, they have the chance to have their teammates run and get a good setup on the car. It was our first time running on this track. Hats off to them for giving me a good car that from the get-go felt awesome. That helped us get through rookie orientation quickly.
“I went out, felt comfortable, we knocked out the laps. No hiccups on anything, which is exactly you want on a day like this.”
Wickens completed rookie orientation eventually but was sidelined with gearbox issues in his No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team brought out teammate James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 ARROW Electronics Honda and Wickens completed rookie orientation in his fellow Canadian’s car.
“We had to scramble a little bit to get James’ car ready because it wasn’t scheduled to be going on track,” said Wickens. “So we had to do some quick fixes and get everything ready to go.
“It wasn’t ideal because we didn’t really do a seat fit for me in his car. Apart from the seat going in, everything was more get on with it, get the orientation done. We were actually a little pressed for time to get all the phases through in the time allocation we had.
“The guys worked hard to get the 5 car ready. I love it around here. It was my first taste of Indianapolis, I love the oval. I ran the GP course 12 years ago. It was good to do my first laps at the oval.”
Wickens turned the fastest overall lap of the day with a 220.11 mph lap in Hinchcliffe’s car in the three hour session.
After a one hour break, veterans that will attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 that don’t run the full IndyCar schedule of races had to do a refresher test consisting of phases two and three of rookie orientation. Jay Howard ran his veteran refresher in the same car that Robert Wickens used to finish his rookie orientation while Sage Karam turned 45 laps in his No. 24 Dreyer and Reinbold Racing Chevrolet to finish his refresher.
All attention, however, was on Danica Patrick. The 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, Patrick ran 52 laps in her No. 13 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet in her first laps in an open wheel car since 2011. Patrick announced last year that Indianapolis would be her final race and if she qualifies it will be her eighth Indianapolis 500. She has six top ten finishes in seven 500s.
“I felt like I was able to feel the grip limit of the car, especially the front, of course, because took so much front aero out,” said Patrick. “I was really able to feel the front sliding pretty well, even with the way it felt. That’s good for me. Tomorrow it will feel even more comfortable.”
Manufacturer testing will commence tomorrow. The next on track activity will be on Thursday May 10th ahead of the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 12th.