Six drivers complete Indy 500 test
Former Formula One star Rubens Barrichello was among six drivers to finish three required speed phases of the Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation program on Thursday at the famed Indy oval.
Brazil's Barrichello, Britain's James Jakes, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud and Americans Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson completed the 40-lap rookie test, clearing them to start practice and qualifying efforts for the May 27 race.
And 35-year-old Mexican driver Michel Jourdain Jnr, who last raced at Indy in 1996, completed his speed testing as he tries to make a return to the 200-lap open-wheel showdown over the legendary 2 1/2=mile (4km) oval.
Lotus-backed Jean Alesi, a Frenchman with more than 200 F1 starts who will turn 48 two weeks after the race, and New Zealand's Wade Cunningham, who completed two of three phases, could complete the test on Friday.
Alesi drove his first 18 oval laps and his first 18 laps in an IndyCar during Thursday's session as he tries to make a stunning Indy 500 debut.
"There's a first time for everything," Alesi said. "It's a big day. 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 have been in motorsports for a long time but haven't driven on an oval, so I'm very happy to have accomplished this part."
The program allows racers new to Indianapolis to adjust to the challenge of consistently reaching speeds above 200 mph on the oval, building to 15 laps above 210 mph to complete the program.
"It allows you to progress gradually without too much pressure so I was at ease with my car and the whole process," Barrichello said. "Overall I had a very successful day."
England's Jakes set the fast lap of the day at 41.2338 seconds, 218.268 mph, in a Honda-powered car. He failed to qualify for last year's Indy 500 in his first laps on an oval course.
"Going home last year was probably one of the lowest points of my racing career," Jakes said. "I've never not been able to get into a race before and it really got to me. But we said this year we would not be in the same situation and we've started things the right way."
Jourdain turned back the clock in his IndyCar return.
"It was fantastic," he said. "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.
"I thought I was going to be much more nervous but it felt really good. I was quite comfortable and relaxed. I felt at home in the car and I'm very, very happy."
Pagenaud was happy for some first-hand experience after hearing so much about the Indy oval.
"It was great to finally find out about Indianapolis myself and feel it myself," he said. "It's like there are 12 corners here instead of four. There are a lot of things you feel through the corners and you have to try to process it all in your mind all while going 210 mph. It was a good feeling and a pleasant surprise. Now I have the experience. Very pleasant, so far."