It’s nice to be reminded of what a first Indianapolis Motor Speedway experience is like.
Linus Lundqvist, Tom Blomqvist and Marcus Armstrong have been to the Racing Capital of the World on many occasions, even racing on the road course that winds clockwise through the historic facility.
But driving around the iconic oval track, which traces its competitive roots to 1909, elicits breathtaking emotions, especially for a newbie. Take Lundqvist, for example. Wednesday’s laps in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) were his first of any kind at IMS – which means, he had never experienced the 2.5-mile counter-clockwise circuit on a bike, a road car, even an IMS Museum tour bus.
“I haven’t even been in a (simulator),” he said, laughing. “So, today’s first lap literally was my first lap, and it was very, very special.”
And it was nerve-wracking, as so many drivers have explained about IMS over the years.
“The place is mega, and it feels so fast,” Lundqvist said. “The first phase (of the rookie program) is slow (with a maximum speed of 210 mph), but it still feels fast.
“The first time through (Turn 1 at speed)? I’m still getting over the last time through it. You keep thinking, no way is this flat (on the gas pedal) because all you see is a wall. But you just know it has to be flat, and it is.”
Blomqvist said he had to pretend the wall in Turn 1 wasn’t there.
“You try to look past it by looking farther down the track,” he said. “Otherwise, the (visual) is that it’s right there.”
Lundqvist and Armstrong are driving Honda-powered cars for Chip Ganassi Racing, a five-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. On hand to assist them Wednesday was three-time “500” winner Dario Franchitti along with team owner Chip Ganassi and the team’s longtime managing director, Mike Hull.
Blomqvist, driving Meyer Shank Racing’s Honda, had support from team co-owners Michael Shank and four-time “500” winner Helio Castroneves, who will drive a team car in May. Castroneves won the 2021 race for MSR. New MSR driver Felix Rosenqvist also was on hand.
Castroneves said his advice to the newbies is to slow down before worrying about going fast.
“People sometimes get anxious – (they hear) you’ve got to go flat out – and they don’t know how to get there,” he said. “I just mentioned a few corners he should (focus on) first until he feels comfortable, and that’s what he did.”
All three Indy rookies passed the mandatory three-phase rookie program before the afternoon break, and Thursday it will be Kyle Larson’s turn in the Arrow McLaren entry. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion is scheduled to be on the oval from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
IMS has been staging rookie tests for all oval newcomers since 1936.
Armstrong said the most challenging part was the first phase.
“Having to predict the lap speed is not easy, especially when I didn’t really have a reference as to what’s fast or slow,” he said. “I thought it was actually difficult to stay at that pace (between 205-210 mph), initially. As we progressively got faster … we have a very good car and tons of stability in the car, and it gave me a lot of confidence, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to this place.”
Blomqvist said getting recent laps at Texas Motor Speedway helped him Wednesday, but while the general feeling of driving on the two oval tracks is similar, the overall experience here is unique.
“In the beginning it feels so fast,” he said. “At least by the end (of the session) your brain and everything slows down to where it becomes (doable and) you don’t realize you’re going 220 miles per hour, or whatever it was, and turning into the first corner.
“That’s what surprises me, in a good way, because I’m glad (things slow down), or else it would be kind of gnarly.”
The three drivers combined to turn 285 laps Wednesday, and their next chance to continue their IMS learning curve is expected to come in April when the series convenes for open test. Then comes May.
Blomqvist said they all have so much to learn.
“I obviously haven’t done any of the pit entry (or) pit exits properly, and that’s a whole different ballgame because you can win or lose in those phases,” he said. “So, there are so many other things that I haven’t kind of attacked in the right way.
“May is still going to be a huge, huge challenge.”