INDIANAPOLIS -- Matheus “Matt” Leist passed his rookie test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval track today along with fellow rookies Robert Wickens and Kyle Kaiser.
“Rookie Orientation done, ready to race or test,” the Brazilian native said afterwards. “It was good fun. The ABC car was looking good today. Tony did a great setup yesterday [Tony Kanaan was fastest of the 21 veterans who tested yesterday] so the car was pretty neutral and fast. I went through all the phases pretty well. The first one was 205-210, the second one was 210-215 and then 215-plus. The car was feeling good all day long so pretty happy.”
The Rookie Orientation Program is unique to the Speedway. All first-time drivers, even very accomplished ones like Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso, must go through the program if they wish to compete in the Indianapolis 500. The rookies are asked to drive within certain speed ranges, which allows them to get acclimated to the high speeds but also to drive the car at speeds that are slower than normal and not very comfortable.
Wickens, the 29-year-old rookie from Canada, explained it best in the rookies' press conference earlier this afternoon, saying, “When you're going that slow, you're not really taking the line, the car kind of just goes where it wants, you're kind of going too slowly. Once you got up to around the 215 mark, it started reacting, feeling balance issues with the car. Before you're more or less cruising around at a speed where the car is not happy, they're set to be going 220, 225. We actually have a lot less downforce on the car than what we would be when we're doing normal laps. It was kind of a bizarre feeling.”
Although the ROP was Leist’s first time on the track in an Indy car, he knows his way around the Speedway in an Indy Lights car because he won last year’s Freedom 100 in his first attempt. The experience was helpful in his adapting to the Chevrolet-powered ABC Supply Dallara he will use to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
“The feeling was not that much different than Indy Lights,” said Leist, who logged 71 laps and ran a top speed of 220.073mph. “The Indy Lights cars have less downforce and go 20 miles per hour slower in the straights but the feeling is pretty much the same. This car has more downforce so you feel a little more comfortable with the speed so it was not a big deal for me. We’ll see how it’s going to be in qualifying, but so far so good. I’m looking forward to the month of May.”
Kanaan and Leist will be on track together tomorrow as part of the engine manufacturers’ test which is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and again from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It will not be live-streamed on IndyCar.com.
Kanaan will depart from the track immediately following his test session to fly to Belgium. He is competing in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, an FIA World Endurance Championship race at the famed European road course. The race will serve as a prelim for his participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
The teams will practice and qualify for the Grand Prix of Indy on the Speedway’s road course configuration on Friday, May 11th. The race will be broadcast live by ABC on Saturday , May 12th starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.