Indy 500 rookies brace for qualifying trip like no other

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INDIANAPOLIS – Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is one of the most daunting tasks any racing driver will have to face. Veterans of this race are always wary of the four on-the-edge laps they need to complete to earn a starting position, no matter how many years they’ve done it before.

For rookies, it can be an overwhelming experience – especially if it comes in the driver’s first oval race in the NTT IndyCar Series. That’s the case for each of the seven Indy 500 rookies this year, though the newcomers are approaching the experience positively.

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s Marcus Ericsson has never raced on an oval, his career track coming through the European road- and street-course ranks to Formula 1. Ericsson said he is ready for the challenge.

“Oval racing in general is a lot different than anything I’ve done before and this format of four laps and pulling the average is different as well from what I’m used to,” said Ericsson, driver of the No. 7 Arrow SPM Honda.

“But it’s been a good week so far. I’m with a very good team in Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports that knows what they’re doing and knows how to prepare the car. Also, having James (Hinchcliffe) and Robbie (Wickens) helping me as well has been very helpful. It’s very different, but I’m very excited for the challenge.”

Ericsson had a solid week so far leading up to Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge qualifying, which included a top-20 overall speed in Fast Friday practice. Ericsson’s best no-tow lap of 228.754 mph ranked 13th in that category.

Santino FerrucciSantino Ferrucci of Dale Coyne Racing has nine NTT IndyCar Series starts in his brief career, but none on an oval. Still, the 20-year-old American takes confidence into his attempt in the No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda.

"The approach to Indy 500 qualifying consists more of building up to it. I have a great team around me, a great teammate (Sebastien Bourdais) that knew how to guide me through it,” the Connecticut native said.

“I think, being a rookie, it's a process. Even if you want to rush things and go fast immediately, and even though you think you're ready, you're not. You have to take it step by step and that's what we've done.”

Felix Rosenqvist will also make his first Indy car oval qualifying attempt, but the Chip Ganassi Racing has had a much different week than his fellow Swede Ericsson. The 27-year-old crashed in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda on Wednesday, but he rebounded in a backup car with solid practice days on Thursday and Friday.

“This is very different, a very different (qualifying) structure,” said Rosenqvist, who did race on the IMS oval in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2016. “But that’s what we’ve been planning towards all week, to trim more and more out to get ready for it.

“You have to have the best lap of your life each and every lap (in qualifying). You need to have respect for the speed and the speedway, that’s what’s really different. You have to have a lot of guts to do it right.”

Other rookies scheduled to qualify this weekend are Patricio O’Ward, Jordan King, Ben Hanley and Colton Herta, who won last year’s Indy Lights Freedom 100 on the IMS oval.

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