Rubens Barrichello had competed (and won) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway previously, but not on the famous 2.5-mile oval.
So entering the Rookie Orientation Program on May 10 – fresh off his rookie oval test at Texas Motor Speedway -- the Formula One veteran and IZOD IndyCar Series newbie didn’t quite know what to expect.
Yes, he received tutoring from KV Racing Technology teammate and countryman Tony Kanaan and insight from his engineer, Eddie Jones, team co-owner Jimmy Vasser and crew members. But much of quickly learning the peccadillos of the racetrack was under his control.
Barrichello, driving the No. 8 BMC | EMBRASE – KV Racing Technology car powered by Chevrolet, surprised quite a few spectators – and maybe himself – by qualifying 10th on May 19 for the Indianapolis 500. He backed it up with an 11th-place finish to win the Chase Rookie of the Year Award.
Barrichello essentially went to school in the first half of the race, being patient, adapting to running in packs and dealing with the turbulence. By Lap 148 he was in the top 10, and over the final 50 laps fought to remain there.
"It was a very busy afternoon,” Barrichello said. “I had to be a quick learner and the last 20 laps were totally different to the first 180. Today I wanted to be competitive, but I also wanted to make sure I was running till the finish. I think right at the end we had a little too much downforce on the car, but I am so proud of what we achieved. The team did a fantastic job of keeping me safe and I really enjoyed my first Indianapolis 500."
Barrichello, who turned 40 on May 23, was attempting to become the first driver to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the U. S. Grand Prix Formula One race (2002) that was held on the IMS road course.
“I’m still very proud of what the team has achieved,” he said. “And it’s a pity that we didn’t finish top 10, we’re just outside, but I can be proud of that for my first time out.”