ROP Day 1
“No,” Michel Jourdain Jr. said, shaking his head. “It doesn’t feel like 16 years ago I was here.”
It didn’t appear so either.
Jourdain completed all three phases of the refresher course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he began preparations to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 for the second time. Driving the No. 30 Honda-powered Office Depot/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car, Jourdain recorded 73 laps during the day set aside for the Rookie Orientation Program and refreshers on the 2.5-mile oval.
Six drivers completed the three required speed phases totaling 40 laps, clearing the way for them to compete in the 500 Mile Race on May 27: Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, James Jakes of Dale Coyne Racing, Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and Rubens Barrichello of KV Racing Technology.
Wade Cunningham of A.J. Foyt Racing completed two of the three phases. He along with Jean Alesi of Fan Force United can complete the final phase when ROP resumes at 4:30 p.m. May 11.
Jourdain last competed in the “500” in 1996, qualifying eighth and finishing 13th. The session on the Speedway asphalt was his first laps in an Indy car on an oval since 2004 (Milwaukee and Las Vegas).
“It’s fantastic. I was really enjoying it out there,” said Jourdain, 35, of Mexico City. “The first phase is quite hard to judge and get the right line when you’re going at a speed the car is not supposed to go (200-205 mph). The second and third phases are easier. This was a starting point. I wanted to be patient, get through it with not making any stupid mistakes and go little by little. I think we did that.”
Added team co-owner Bobby Rahal, who watched Jourdain win the Montreal and Milwaukee CART races in 2003 in a Team Rahal car: “Today was all about getting through the test. You don’t have the car trimmed out; it’s just get through it and get on with it. It’s as much about making sure we’re ready to go on (Opening Day May 12). I’m really pleased. We’ve been friends for a long time and when he drove for me he was damn good and won some races and should have won some more frankly. I’m pleased he’s back and hopeful we can have a good month and hopeful we can put together something longer term.”
Jakes set the fastest lap of the session of 41.2338 seconds (218.268 mph) in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. Though he went through ROP in 2011, Jakes failed to qualify for the 33-car starting lineup on Bump Day.
“I have mixed memories of this place,” Jakes said. “Obviously, I love driving around here. There’s no place like it, but going home last year was probably one of the lowest points of my racing career. I’ve never not been able to get into a race before, and it really got to me last year. But we said this year we wouldn’t be in the same situation, and we’ve started things the right way. It’s only ROP, but we sailed through the first three stages and it went well.
“I think I would have happy going straight out there, but it’s good. You never complain about getting free laps on free tires, you know. I think it’s good, and I think they should maybe have a refresher day for everybody. You know, when you come from another track the speeds are so much greater here than everywhere else, and all it takes is one mistake to have a big accident. So I think the idea of the ROP is good.”
Barrichello, who also will attempt to qualify for his first Indy 500, also appreciated the warm-up to full activity. He completed an IZOD IndyCar Series oval test May 7 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I want to thank INDYCAR for having the ROP,” he said. “It allows you to progress gradually without too much pressure, so I was at ease with my car and the whole process. I have a great teacher in (KV Racing Technology teammate) Tony (Kanaan) and the whole team seemed to be out here, even the mechanics and engineers from Tony and E.J.'s car, so everyone was here to help me out. Overall, I had a very successful day and look forward to practice again on Saturday."