Tale of Two Veteran Rookies pt. 1

Opposite ends of the spectrum may be the best way to describe the two situations that Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello find themselves in as they each enter the month of May. The two drivers combined have a mind boggling 521 Formula One race starts, yet they are both considered rookies as the enter the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for their first attempts at the Indy 500.

Rubens may not be in one of the dominant Penske or Ganassi cockpits, but he and his KV Racing teammates, Tony Kanaan and E.J. Viso, are always in with a shout of a podium, if not a potential victory. With four races of the 2012 IndyCar season already completed, Rubens currently sits in 11th position in the series standings on the back of three consecutive top 10 finishes. As reported earlier this week, the Brazilian took part in his first oval test at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday, further acclimating himself with the new Dallara DW12.

Alesi’s first laps in anger in an IndyCar, meanwhile, came during yesterday’s Rookie Orientation Program at Indy’s two and a half mile oval. The ROP consists of three phases in which a driver must get consistently quicker with each step. Of the eight drivers taking part (James Jakes, Bryan Clauson, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Michel Jourdain, Wade Cunningham, Barrichello and Alesi), only Cunningham and Alesi did not pass the test. Cunningham passed the first two phases (10 consecutive laps averaging between 200-205mph and 15 laps at 205-210mph) and may now complete the third phase (15 laps over 210) at any time that the track is open for testing.

While Rubens was 4th fastest, running at a tick over 214mph, Alesi’s best lap was just over 186mph, leaving him three more opportunities between today and Sunday to complete at least the first two phases of the ROP. The Frenchman’s biggest hurdle above and beyond his ‘rookie’ status may be his team and, even more so, their choice of engine. Alesi will be attempting to qualify and race in the Indianapolis 500, not with a seasoned squad, but with Firestone Indy Lights team Fan Force United, who are making the step up for the 500 alone. As an ambassador for Lotus, the lump which will power Alesi’s car may, in fact, be the sole representative for that powerplant.

Along with Chevrolet, Lotus entered the 2012 season with the goal of fighting Honda, which had been the series sole engine supplier since 2006. At the back of Roger Penske’s team, Chevy has taken wins in all four races so far this year. Underpowered and unreliable, Lotus, meanwhile, are getting sued by one team and have been dropped by almost every other team that stated the season with their engines. Alesi was only able to complete 18 laps on Thursday before car troubles sidelined him for the day.

Here’s to hoping both Jean and Rubens are able to get fully up to speed and acclimated with the daunting walls of Indy come next weekend’s Pole Day. As an F1 fan, as well as a fan of IndyCar racing, I feel it would be great for both sports to see each of them taking part in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Keep an eye on this space as the month of May progresses for updates on both drivers’ progress.

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