The gates finally opened at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon. Starting a week later than usual due to a newly condensed schedule, the IZOD IndyCar Series took to the track for rookie orientation and a two-hour practice session. Although rain washed out a significant portion of the afternoon action, there was enough activity to curb Indianapolis racing fans appetite for speed, temporarily at least.
Being a rookie at the famed 2.5 mile oval is a daunting task, and to help assimilate the first-timers, the Speedway requires the completion of a “Rookie Orientation.” The 2010 edition of the Indianapolis 500 features seven rookies trying to make the field of 33:
Takuma Sato: KV Racing Technology (Tokoyo, Japan)
-Sato is far and away the most experienced of the rookie drivers in Speedway, Indiana this month. He had a successful career in European racing before landing a gig in Formula One in 2002. Sato spent seven years driving in the world’s most elite racing series, finishing a career best 8th in the points championship in 2004. He finished with only one podium finish, which just so happened to come at IMS in the ’04 U.S. Grand Prix. This season in IndyCar he’s failed to finish three of the first five races, but he’s shown significance speed, and in his first race on an oval course at Kansas was running sixth before a late crash netted him a 24th place finish.
Jay Howard: Sarah Fisher Racing (Basildon, England)
-Howard first gained attention when he won the points championship as a rookie in Firestone Indy Lights Series in 2006. In 2008 he earned a job with Roth Racing to drive their second car in the IndyCar Series. He qualified for four of the first five races, but was replaced for the Indy 500 by Jeff Andretti, who brought much needed sponsorship money to the team. Howard would race one more race for Roth before moving back to Indy Lights in 2009. He inked a deal with Sarah Fisher Racing before the 2010 season to run a five race slate: Indy, Texas, ChicagoLand, Mid-Ohio and last month’s event at Kansas, in which he placed 25th after crashing out late in the race.
Ana “Bia” Beatriz: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
-Beatriz was a highly successful karting driver in her native Brazil, and was impressive enough to earn a ride with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the Indy Light Series in 2008. She competed in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Speedway that season, finishing fifth. Later that year she became the first female to win a race in Indy Lights, leading the most laps on her way to a dominating victory at Nashville Superspeedway. She returned to Indy Lights in 2009, and had some ups (winning a race at Iowa), and some downs (crashing at the Firestone Freedom 100). This season she made the jump to IndyCar, finishing 13th in the season-opening race in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Indianapolis will be her second attempt in the series.
Bertrand Baguette: Conquest Racing (Thimister-Clermont, Belgium)
-Baguette got his start karting, and after winning the Belgian Championship, was awarded a scholarship to drive in the Formula Renault Series. He had great success, winning the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2009 and earning several tests for Formula One. When he couldn’t secure an F1 gig, Baguette signed with Conquest Racing. His best finish in three IndyCar races is 20th.
Simona de Silvestro: Team Stargate Worlds/HVM (Thun, Switzerland)
-de Silvestro made her American driving debut in the Atlantic Championship Series, and secured her first win in the series in 2008. The next season she notched four victories and four pole-positions on her way to a third place finish. After such an impressive showing, the 21-year old joined the IndyCar Series in 2010. Known primarily for her skill on street courses, de Silvestro showed very respectably in the season’s first four road races. She got her first taste of oval racing at Kansas two weeks ago, and finished the race, although she was three laps of the lead in 21st place.
Sebastian Saavedra: Bryan Herta Autosport (Bogota, Colombia)
-The fresh faced Saavedra is just 19 years old, but he’s shown significant ability in his time as an Indy Lights driver. He won two races last season, finishing third in the points standings, and taking home the Indy Lights Rookie of the Year. This season he has a pair of Top-Five finishes in the first three races. The Indianapolis 500 will be his first foray into the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Mario Romancini: Conquest Racing (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
-Another product of the Indy Lights Series, Romancini raced for Andersen Racing in the ILS in 2009. In his fifth race in the series, he won from the pole, and ended up capturing a second victory on his way to a sixth place finish in the standings. He made the transition to IndyCar this season with Conquest Racing. In five races, he’s been knocked out by contact twice, finished 22nd in the other two, and ended up a healthy 13th at St. Petersburg.
-After two days of orientation, all seven drivers successfully completed the program and are primed and ready for the start of full practice sessions beginning on Monday. Here’s a look at how each driver fared in their early attempts at speed:
Jay Howard: 222.789
Simona de Silvestro: 221.370
Takuma Sato: 220.235
Ana Beatriz: 219.816
Bertrand Baguette: 218.749
Mario Romancini: 217.865
Sebastian Saavedra: 213.480