Saturday, May 15, 2010

Countdown to Indy (Day #16): 2010 Indy 500 Rookie Class

Recognizing the learning curve required to handle a IZOD IndyCar Series Dallara-Honda at over 220 miles per hour, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway does not simply send their freshman competitors to the open wheel wolf pack. As the track officially open on Saturday (May15th), The IZOD IndyCar Series cars are divided into two practice groups with the 7 rookies for 2010 receiving a more intimate connection to the 2.5 mile rectangular racetrack. Called Rookie Orientation, Saturday and Sunday will offer a four-hour session each afternoon to bring the newer open wheel drivers up to speed, both literally as well as metaphorically.

Amongst the 7 drivers, 4 have prior experience running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval (well, the track's actually rectangular but the track is driven like an oval). Ana Beatriz, Jay Howard, Mario Romancini and Sebastian Saavedra have all participated in the Firestone Freedom 100 for the Firestone Indy Lights Series. While competition within the Firestone Indy Lights Series offers a clear advantage, Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honours have only to a one driver who graduated from the IRL support series (Marco Andretti in 2006).

Along with a chance to get their hands on the massive and beautiful Borg-Warner Trophy prize (amid a small possibly especially for a rookie), the Indy 500 has been rewarding a Rookie of the Year every since 1952 to the first-time driver which has turned their budding Indy car racing skills into a bright showing. While a front-finishing race result would help a rookie's campaign for the award, a freshman driver's performance throughout the Indianapolis Motor Speedway festivities would result in any of the 7 drivers contending fiercely for the race's Rookie of the Year.

Bertrand Baguette- #36 Conquest Racing RACB

In the first and only oval race of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule at Kansas Speedway, Baguette finished as the highest-placed of the participating Indy 500 rookies. However, that ended up being a 20th place finish for the Belgium native.

With Conquest Racing contesting the 2010 Indy 500 with two possible rookie contenders, the team would like to replicate results of last season. In 2009, Conquest Racing actively aided in allowing their than-driver Alex Tagliani to claim Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honours.

Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy

Ana Beatriz- #25 Ipiranga/ Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

Beatriz finished 5th in 2008 in the Freedom 100 race after qualifying 4th. The Brazilian also run last year's Firestone Indy Lights event at the Speedway where she started 4th again but would end the race with a wrecked race car. As a double shot of misfortune, Beatriz's low-budget team was unable to get a car ready for the Milwaukee Mile.

Running only a single IZOD IndyCar Series race for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at the Sao Paulo Indy 300 race opening the season, Ana Beatriz has proven to be a quick study to the faster Indy car machines. Beatriz comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway advantaged to have two competitive teammates with Justin Wilson and Mike Conway.

It would not be too surprising to see Beatriz not only make the race but produce a top-15 showing in this Indy 500 outing.

Jay Howard- #66 Sarah Fisher Racing

Competing in his first 2010 race at Kansas, England's Jay Howard approaches the Indy 500 for the first time in his career with Sarah Fisher Racing. In the Firestone Indy Lights Series, Howard has run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway twice in the support series event in 2006 and 2009. Jay Howard's best effort in the Indy Lights Series event came in 2006 when the Brit finished runner-up in the 100 mile race.

Jay Howard is looking to become the United Kingdom's first Indy 500 Rookie of the Year since Nigel Mansell in 1993.

Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy

Mario Romancini- #34 Conquest Racing

Despite not having a great outing in the Conquest Racing #34 car at Kansas Speedway early this month, Mario Romancini has demonstrated some natural oval racing talent in the IRL ladder series to the IZOD IndyCar Series last season. Running only his second oval race in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, Romancini advanced from an 18th place starting position to finish an impressive 3rd place. Mario Romancini, riding the momentum of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway performance, would go on to win the next race at the Milwaukee Mile leading flag-to-flag.

Sebastian Saavedra- #29 William Rast/Bryan Herta Autosport

Making an Indy 500-only effort for the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series, the William Rast/Bryan Herta Autosport has signed 20 year-old Formula BMW and Indy Lights graduate Sebastian Saavedra to break into the 33-car field. Grabbing two victories in 2009 competing in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, Saavedra acquired a front row starting spot in last year's Freedom 100 race.

Takuma Sato- #5 Lotus-KV Racing Technology

For Takuma Sato, the Japanese driver's entire rookie effort in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series has been a frustrating ordeal. Sato and his KV Racing Technology team would certainly like to use the Indy 500 as a turning point to a difficult season. In his only career oval race in oval wheel racing (the May 1st Roadrunner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway), his #5 KV Racing Technology first had made minor contact with Milka Duno leading the pits and was later collected in a late race crash. With KV Racing Technology adding a 4th car for open wheel veteran Paul Tracy, it would be interesting if the Canadian driver's experience might help Takuma Sato find a deserving run.

Sato could become the 3rd Japanese native in 8 Indy 500 runnings to be crowned the race's Rookie of the Year.

Simona de Silvestro- #78 Team Stargate Worlds/ HVM Racing

Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro enters the Indianapolis 500 with only one career start on an oval track at Kansas Speedway. Having showed promise as a series-long rookie of the year contender, de Silvestro wasn't treated to any beginner's luck running the high-speed Indy cars on circle tracks. However, it is also unfair to judge a driver on the one oval event.

After 58 years of the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award, a Swiss driver has never won the honour. Intent on running the same plan as her rookie season so far, 21 year-old de Silvestro and HVM Racing will devote themselves to finishing all the laps possible so expect the team to make full use of the rookie orientation time.

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