Ninety minutes was all that was necessary for three first-year Indianapolis 500 competitors to complete the three phases of the formal Rookie Orientation Program on Opening Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"We really economized," Tristan Vautier joked.
Vautier, driving the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car, joined AJ Allmendinger and Carlos Munoz in breezing through the session that bisected afternoon practice. They were then cleared to join veterans on the 2.5-mile oval for practice building up to Pole Day qualifying May 18.
Sixteen driver/car combinations turned laps, including three-time Indianapolis 500 Mile Race champion Helio Castroneves setting up Allmendinger's car. Ed Carpenter, winner of the last IZOD IndyCar Series race on a superspeedway, topped the speed chart with a lap of 220.970 mph (40.7296 seconds).
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The Rookie Orientation Program is designed to provide first-year drivers an opportunity to get acquainted with the racetrack. The three speed phases, set by INDYCAR based on the weather and track conditions, include 10 laps at 200-205 mph, 15 laps at 205-209 mph and 15 laps at 210 mph-plus.
INDYCAR driver stewards Arie Luyendyk and Johnny Unser also monitor car control, placement and a consistent driving pattern. The program is an invaluable asset, even to individuals who previously have competed on the racetrack.
"I went down the frontstraight the first time and turned in (to Turn 1) and my left foot starting quivering over the brake pedal and I said, 'No, no. You can't do that.' I'm used to doing that (in a Sprint Cup car) but you can't do that in one of these (IndyCars)," said Allmendinger, driving the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske car. "It's about getting used to the rhythm of the line, get used to the racetrack, get used to the car and step up the speed from there."
Added Vautier, the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion who competed in the Firestone Freedom 100 on the Speedway last May: "Everything happens faster in these cars and you need to anticipate everything. It’s easier to make a mistake and you have to be on it all the time."
Respect the track was a theme.
"It was not that much different than driving in Firestone Indy Lights, but it just took me a few laps to adapt to the track and new No. 26 Unistraw Chevrolet," said Munoz, the Firestone Indy Lights championship points leader who will attempt to compete in both races. "My teammates, James (Hinchcliffe) and Marco (Andretti), supported me throughout each of the phases and gave me some good tips. I feel really good going into the rest of this week's practices, but it's still a long couple weeks so we just need to take it step-by-step."
Conor Daly is expected to begin the process May 13 in the No. 41 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing. Daly had weekend racing commitments in Barcelona, Spain, where he finished third May 11 in the first of two GP3 races.
“It’s a busy weekend for me in Barcelona, but the INDYCAR guys have been really good to us in saying we can do it Monday,” Daly said. “It’s unfortunate that I’ll miss the first two days but it’s still a lot of track time. I’m just excited to get to work.”
Carpenter recorded 21 laps in the No. 20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka car. Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 21T Century 21 car for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, was second quick (220.920 mph; 40.7387 seconds) on a field-high 59 laps and Munoz cranked out a best lap of 220.720 mph in the waning minutes of practice.
“It’s still very early in the process. We got what we needed for today, so I am happy with that,” said Carpenter, who earned his second IZOD IndyCar Series victory at Auto Club Speedway last October. “We really aren’t worried about trying to get a fast lap right now. We certainly want to be competitive, so if we are at the top each day, that will make us happy as we move towards qualifying.”
Charlie Kimball was fourth (220.633; 40.7917) in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing entry and 2011 Indy 500 pole sitter Alex Tagliani kicked off practice fifth overall with a best lap of 220.248 mph in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing car.