Rookie and refresher tests take place at Indianapolis, Patrick makes her return to IndyCar

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Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar

A number of drivers have taken to the track today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the second day of practice ahead of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Only six drivers turned laps during today’s running, which was restricted to rookie orientation and veteran refresher programs.

Perhaps the most anticipated part of the day was the return of Danica Patrick, as she turned her first laps in an IndyCar since 2011. Patrick, along with the other five drivers who ran during the day, was able to successfully pass the orientation programs.

The day’s running was split into two halves. The morning session was dedicated to the rookies. Part of the process of entering your first Indianapolis 500 is to undergo rookie orientation, where the series mandates that drivers must complete a number of laps at numerous speed brackets before they are permitted to race in the event. The program consists of ten laps at 205-210mph, followed by fifteen laps at 210-215mph and then a final run of fifteen laps between 215mph and 220mph.

The three rookies who were in action in the morning were Robert Wickens for Schmidt Peterson MotorsportsMatheus Leist for A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Kyle Kaiser for Juncos Racing. All three, as expected, passed rookie orientation with flying colours, with Kaiser pointing out that the task was made easier due to the track already being rubbered in after Monday’s group test.

For Wickens, the task was a little trickier, however, as he was driving James Hinchcliffe‘s car after his own car suffered a gearbox failure early in the day. This meant that he didn’t have his usual pedal and seating positions. Thankfully, he still managed to recover from the issues to pass the rookie orientation.

Dale Coyne Racing‘s Pietro Fittipaldi was thought to be taking part in the morning’s rookie session. However, it was confirmed before the session that he would not be on the circuit and would instead be running his rookie orientation program at the next available practice session on May 15.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

The second and final session of the day was dedicated to the drivers who have raced in the Indy 500 before but who needed to undergo a refresher course before they could return to the race. These drivers only had to complete the final two of the three orientation stages that the rookies ran before them.

The three drivers on track for the refresher were Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s Jay HowardDreyer & Reinbold Racing‘s Sage Karam and Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Danica Patrick.

Danica’s much-anticipated return to an IndyCar cockpit after seven years away in NASCAR didn’t get off to a great start. Patrick went out in her #13 GoDaddy Chevrolet for an installation lap, where it was discovered that there was a water pressure issue. This relegated her to the garage for around half an hour, but thankfully she returned to the track and experienced no further issues.

Jay Howard completed the most laps of the afternoon session, with the British driver running sixty-one laps in Hinchcliffe’s #5 SPM Honda. He was also the first of the trio to complete their refresher course. Patrick completed the next highest number of laps after running fifty-two times around the Brickyard. She would also complete her refresher course within the closing ten minutes.

Perhaps the closest call was with Karam in the #24 Chevrolet. Whilst it wasn’t absolutely vital for the drivers to complete their refresher courses today, as they had further opportunities later in the month, it would be a good advantage if they could jump all the hurdles on day one. Sage looked to have not completed the course with less than five minutes to go, but thankfully a late was enough to have him pass the final stage of the orientation right as the chequered flag flew to draw the day to a close.

IndyCar testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will continue tomorrow in a private, un-broadcasted, manufacturer test. Following that, attention will turn to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis that takes place on the road course on May 12. Two days after that, the Verizon IndyCar Series will be back out on the oval for further practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500; which will take place on May 27.

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