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Franchitti Fastest; Conquest Rookies Stay Smooth

Final Practice Results

Heading into the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, odds were long that both Conquest Racing rookie drivers, Mario Romancini and Bertrand Baguette, would crack the 33-car starting lineup for the Indianapolis 500.

Experience – competing against Indy-tested veterans and quickly learning the vagaries of the racetrack -- was one obstacle. Baguette would attempt to compete in his second IZOD IndyCar Series oval event and Romancini, a two-time oval race winner in Firestone Indy Lights last year, was in a similar situation.

They both qualified in the closest Indianapolis 500 field by time (3.0662 seconds) was the first step. Running multiple laps for the first time with the full field during the final practice on Miller Lite Carb Day on May 28 without incident was the second step. The next – and biggest -- step is results-oriented May 30.

Romancini had a best lap of 222.021 mph and Baguette 221.990 mph during the 60-minute practice session, which put them in the second tier of the speed chart. The 33 drivers totaled 1,254 laps without incident – much to the relief of teams and Indy Racing League President of Competition and Racing Operations Brian Barnhart.

“Now it’s just the Indy 500, look at the sky, look at the weather and make the right decisions,” said A.J. Foyt Racing’s Vitor Meira, who will start 30th in the No. 14 ABC Supply car.

Dario Franchitti, who will start on the outside of the front row, topped the speed chart with a lap of 225.574 mph (39.8963 seconds) on the 2.5-mile oval. Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon (225.159) was second and Will Power, who will start second in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, was third (224.993).

Bruno Junqueira, who didn’t get on the track until Bump Day in the No. 33 FAZZT Race Team entry, was fourth quick (224.898). Pole sitter Helio Castroneves, seeking his fourth 500 Mile Race victory, was fifth on the chart (224.753).

That Romancini and Baguette weren’t near the top – during the final practice or their four-lap qualifying runs earlier in the week – hasn’t been the focus during their hectic two-week trial.

Conquest Racing is the only IZOD IndyCar Series team with two rookies in its driver lineup, but that’s not anything new. The Indianapolis-based team has four Indy 500 starts with rookies (Laurent Redon, who won the 2002 Rookie of the Year title, Enrique Bernoldi and Jaime Camara in 2008, and Alex Tagliani, who earned the 2009 Chase Rookie of the Year award).

“We’ve worked so much with rookie drivers ever since the team was founded that it's sort of become second nature for us," team owner Eric Bachelart said. "We surround them with an experienced team from engineers to mechanics, but still, believe me, it's not always easy, especially coming into oval races. It's an environment that some of the rookie drivers we’ve had had never experienced. But they've all come out doing a good job and that brings us a lot of satisfaction. It's something we take pride in.
“Having both of our cars in this year’s race has an even bigger significance to us because the level of competition is so high. Bertrand and Mario have done a great job so far. Making the field was one thing but being ahead of experienced Indy drivers like Tony Kanaan and Vitor Meira, adds to the satisfaction.”

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2010 Indy 500 tickets: Tickets for the 2010 Indianapolis 500, scheduled for Sunday, May 30, are on sale now. Race Day ticket prices start at just $20.

Fans can order tickets online at www.imstix.com, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area or visit the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street. Online orders can be made at any time. Hours for phone orders and the ticket office are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.

Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.

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