Last month, Kyle Larson, Marcus Armstrong, Tom Blomqvist, and Linus Lundqvist all undertook and completed the Rookie Orientation Program. But what is it exactly? Let’s find out.
When you say ‘IndyCar’, the Indy 500 immediately comes to mind. The most prestigious race on the calendar has constantly attracted drivers from other motor racing categories, and until 1935 it was possible to compete in it without having any previous experience on the Indianapolis racetrack. This changed dramatically in 1935, when Indy rookie Johnny Hannon suffered a fatal crash during the first free practice session. This led to the introduction, the following year, of the Rookie Orientation Program, or ROP – a familiarisation test for drivers with no history of racing on the Indianapolis circuit.
For the past 87 years, every driver who made their debut in the Indy 500 has had to pass this test. This applies not only to IndyCar rookies, – for example, Benjamin Pedersen in 2022 – but also to champions coming from other racing series, most notably Fernando Alonso in 2017. The ROP was previously held in May, right in the middle of the testing season, but in 1981 it was moved to a few months earlier, at a less busy time of the year for rookies.
2023’s new entries
The latest edition of the ROP was held on the 11th and 12th of October, with four participants.
Kyle Larson is a NASCAR driver, champion in 2021. He’ll enter the Indy 500 in 2024 and his goal is a rather ambitious one: to take part in the Indy 500 and in the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Were he able to do it, he would become the fifth driver in history to achieve this feat.
Marcus Armstrong was the 2023 NTT Indycar Series rookie of the year, although he couldn’t take part in the oval races due to contractual reasons. With a full-time contract in his hands, the Indy 500 is now a possibility – and passing the ROP a requirement.
Tom Blomqvist is a former endurance racer, 2022 IMSA SportsCar champion and winner of the Daytona 24h in 2022 and 2023. Last year he made his IndyCar debut with the Meyer Shank team as one of many replacement drivers for the injured Simon Pagenaud, and has secured a full-time seat for 2024. Since his first IndyCar stint occurred in the second half of the 2022 season, he didn’t get the chance to race in the Indy 500, hence his rookie status.
Linus Lundqvist also debuted in IndyCar last season as a replacement for Pagenaud. His history, though, is very different from Blomqvist’s: Lundqvist was Indy Lights champion in 2022 and has adapted to IndyCar machinery more quickly than Blomqvist, as shown by his two fastest laps in three races. Linus will be competing full-time with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2024.
All four drivers completed the ROP successfully. The test involved lapping the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at different ranges of speed. Specifically, ten laps between 205 and 210 miles per hour; fifteen laps between 210 and 215 miles per hour, and finally fifteen laps at over 215 mph. The test was designed for getting acquainted with the layout and the banking of the circuit.
Still many months to go, but we can’t wait for the Indy 500 to be back in May 2024!
Original article (Italian) – Marco Toccalini
Translation – Claudio Scalia