INDIANAPOLIS – Nothing will wake a rookie faster than being tossed in the deep end.
Such was the case when Ben Hanley and Jordan King had their introduction to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval with Tuesday’s opening practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“It's the fastest I've ever gone on land,” King (shown above) admitted.
Hanley has two starts this season in the NTT IndyCar Series – on the St. Petersburg street course in March and Barber Motorsports Park road course in April – for newcomer team DragonSpeed. Although he received a brief introduction to ovals last month in a test at Texas Motor Speedway, it paled in comparison to what the 34-year-old experienced Tuesday on the 2.5-mile IMS superspeedway.
“It's different,” said Hanley. “We had a lot of issues getting things together for St. Pete and things still weren't really like 100 percent for Barber. Since then, the guys have had time to go through everything.
“Now, you can see the car is looking good and nice. Everything had to be a bit rushed (for St. Pete) because we got parts late and things like that to start the year. This is the best condition we've been in turning up to an event. It's nice to get going.”
The driver of the No. 81 10 Star DragonSpeed Chevrolet (shown at left) encountered issues halfway through his rookie orientation program Tuesday but completed it early into Wednesday’s practice. The usually emotionless Brit couldn’t stop smiling when thinking about how far he and the team worked to get to this moment.
“It's massive,” said Hanley, who ran a best lap of 221.547 mph on Tuesday. “I don't show much emotion, but yeah, it's really satisfying to get out there.
“We've come here and we're 100 percent prepared for this race. We're in the best position we've been in to start off our (NTT) IndyCar (Series) race weekend, so far. That's a real confidence boost in itself, knowing that everything is as it should be and it's new to everybody. We've got some experienced guys on the team, especially to help here at the speedway because this is a completely different form of racing to what we're used to.
“The team is strong and we're quietly happy in the background at the moment, so it's a nice atmosphere in the team. The guys have done great getting everything ready for this race, so let's see what we can do the rest of the week."
King made 11 starts in 2018 while racing with Ed Carpenter Racing and is not considered a rookie by NTT IndyCar Series standards, but he is an Indy 500 rookie. He briefly tested a half day at ISM Raceway last year and ran “a few dozen laps,” but called Tuesday his “first real experience on an oval.”
Now in the No. 42 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, the 25-year-old Brit completed all three phases but is still searching everywhere for information that can help continue the learning process.
“I've tried to pick the brains of as many people as I can,” said King, whose top lap Tuesday was 223.973 mph.
“It's good to have a paddock with people that actually just want to see people do well, even if they're at other teams or other vested interests.”
One of those was four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears, who still at some races for Team Penske and was asked by INDYCAR to speak to the rookies prior to their orientation session Tuesday.
“He just gave the four of us just a bit of advice,” King said. “Not so much on how to do things and why to do things and just more of, 'Take your time, think about it,' more of an approach to it.
“He wasn't trying to lecture us on how to drive the thing. He said at the start, 'You're all good, real quick race drivers. I don't need to tell you what to do. This is how it works and take what you want from that' sort of thing.”
The advice was great, King added, but nothing can take the place of track time.
“You can speak to a million and one people and they'll all give you their opinion, but you don't know until you actually get in the car and drive it,” King said.
“Although it's good to listen to people, sometimes it's good to just not listen to people. Drive it, feel the car and then talk to people because then you actually understand it and everything.”
Indy 500 practice continues through Friday, with two days of qualifying to follow. The race is set for Sunday, May 26 and airs live on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Tickets are available at IMS.com.