The IndyLights drivers are out on the track as I write this, preparing for the Freedom 100, which will be run on Carb Day, Friday, May 20. At 2:00 p.m., rookie orientation will begin as will open testing for those who have not raced at IMS in over a year, so Paul Tracy and Scott Sharp will both have a chance to get on the track.
So, with Rookie Orientation underway, let's take a look at those who will see the track today:
- Stanton Barrett (Car #98) - Barrett comes to IndyCar after driving NASCAR for most of his career. The professional stuntman (over 200 movie credits) won't win the 500, but should be able to qualify his Team 3G machine, probably in the second weekend. When he's not driving this month, Barrett will be Twittering during Rookie Orientation.
- Alex Tagliani (Car #34) - Tagliani was recently confirmed as the Conquest Racing driver for the 500. Conquest may or may not be entering another ride (probably not), but for now, the Canadian will be looking to make the field of 33. Tagliani has run in two races this season - both road courses - not sniffing the front of the field. The driver, who was initially sponsored by the Rexall Edmonton Indy race, will feature sponsorship from "King Tut," as an exhibit featuring the child-pharoh of ancient Egypt will be in Indianapolis later this summer.
- Mike Conway (Car #24) - Conway has run in all three races in his rookie season, yet still is behind Tagliani in the points chase. Most of that is due to the fact the native of England has not finished a race yet. Despite his road-racing background, Conway was the victim of bad luck at St. Petersburg and wrecked at Long Beach. Mechanical issues took him out of the Kansas race. The 25-year old recently ran the Mini-Marathon, beating me by over an hour, clocking in at 1:29:49. Hopefully some of that good karma will rub off on him during the month.
- Nelson Philippe (Car #00 - could also be in the #31 entry, reports vary) - Philippe finished fourth in the Champ Car World Series in 2006, but was a victim of the economic woes of the series in the 2007 season, securing sponsorship for just the final two races of the '07 campaign and running with Conquest. He spent the 2008 season in Europe after the two teams he was looking at racing for folding after the IRL and CCWS merged. With his lack of experience, Philippe seems to have the right perspective (via IndyCar.com):
"There's also great drivers like Al Unser Jr. and Johnny Rutherford that I've already spoken to and other drivers who will be helping me out. I think I have the right mind-set for it. I'm just going to take my time, build up the speed. The goal is to be on the lead lap at Lap 200. The phrase I like to say right now is 'Bring it on because I'm ready for it.' "
- Raphael Matos (Car #2) - Matos hitched the full-time ride with Luzco Dragon Racing this season, and has finished just one of three races. However, he placed in the top 10 in that race, avoiding the trouble that he found at St. Pete, where he attempted a low-percentage pass and wound up taking out Danica Patrick, one of his former Andretti-Green teammates. At Kansas, mechanical troubles knocked Matos out. A former IndyLights driver for AGR, Matos knows the track and could be the rookie to watch during the month. Jay Penske has picked up some of his father's tricks and if Matos can avoid the wall, could easily be the 500 Rookie of the Year.
- Robert Doornbos (Car #06) - "Doorknobs" (probably not his real nickname) turned some heads with his qualifying performance at Kansas, placing on the outside of the front row in his first oval race. Like Matos, the former Formula 1 driver has taken one top 10 finish and led two laps. However, Doornbos currently leads in the race for Rookie of the Year by having finished all three races this season. With Newman-Haas Racing behind him, Doornbos should be competitive all month, and if he too avoids trouble during the race, should challenge Matos for 500 Rookie of the Year honors.
And Rahal Letterman Racing will be bring one car to IMS this weekend (from Curt Cavin's twitter page) - whomever they bring (Buddy Rice or Oriol Servia) will need the refresher course as well, more than likely.