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  • Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program

    It is my understanding that rookie tests for the Indy 500 began in the mid-1930s (1936, I believe). I'm interested in researching the history of rookie tests and ROP for the Indy 500. Can anyone suggest sources for information on this subject? Perhaps articles in which the main subject is rookie tests or ROP? Or can you shed light on how such tests have evolved over the years? Thanks

  • #2
    All I know is things were tougher way back until probably the 70's maybe 80's, if you look back on Champ Car Stats, or another respectable site, there are several, there were so many where they literally told drivers to get more experience and declined an entry.

    The last I know of this happening I think was Scott Meier mid 2000's?

    Comment


    • #3
      Each year's Daily Trackside Reports packet typically have coverage of ROP, and before that, "rookie tests" that were going on during practice.

      https://doctorindy.com/daily-tracksi...ive-1967-2014/

      ROP began in 1981, but the DTR's go back to 1967.

      The local newspapers (Star, News, Times), usually have pretty good information. Also, it wasn't always in May. Some years ROP was held in April.
      Doctorindy.com

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      • #4
        Thanks for the responses.

        Doctorindy, when I look at the Daily Trackside Reports for 1980 and 1981, the description of rookie test requirements (two 20-lap phases: one at 160 mph+, and another at 170 mph+), they are identical. And I know that for many years prior to 1980, there were various phases of rookie tests. So just what changed with the introduction of ROP in 1981?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by rjohnson View Post
          Thanks for the responses.

          Doctorindy, when I look at the Daily Trackside Reports for 1980 and 1981, the description of rookie test requirements (two 20-lap phases: one at 160 mph+, and another at 170 mph+), they are identical. And I know that for many years prior to 1980, there were various phases of rookie tests. So just what changed with the introduction of ROP in 1981?
          It was mostly about how rookie acclimation was handled.

          Prior to 1981, the "Rookie Tests" had to be completed before the drivers were permitted to practice on the track with veteran drivers. Typically they tried to conduct the rookie tests early in the month. Prior to 1974, the track opened for practice on May 1st (regardless of the day of the week)...and in some years actually opened a few days prior to May 1st. And it also opened each day at 9 a.m. Furthermore, those first few days typically had a speed limit imposed by the chief steward. Those speed limits effectively discouraged veteran drivers from going out and as a result, sort of freed up track availability for rookies looking acclimate and pass their tests. But that didn't always work out.

          But there was no dedicated track time specifically reserved for rookies. You just had to fit your time in. When a rookie presented himself to take the test, I'm pretty sure they'd clear the track and he'd have it mostly to himself. But all of the rookie tests weren't always finished before the chief steward dropped the speed limits and [effectively] opened the track to everyone. It could be the second or third week before a rookie finally got around to passing their test. A situation sometimes magnified by rookies on small budget teams...teams having trouble getting their cars ready and up to speed to begin with.

          For 1981, USAC decided to conduct a separate ROP session...it was in April that year. It provided dedicated track time to the rookie group, and gave them plenty of track time to acclimate and pass their tests before the month actually started. It made it more like a private test environment.

          ***

          The program evolved little by little over the years, but remained mostly the same through the mid-1990s. Eventually it moved to the weekend before Opening Day, but even that adjusted from time to time. I want to say rookies for a time, regardless of racing experience, were absolutely required to take part in ROP, and at least pass some of their rookie test phases in ROP. No exceptions...until Nigel Mansell came along. He had his crash at Phoenix which injured his back and sidelined him for a couple weeks. He was forced to miss the ROP weekend, and USAC allowed him to take his full rookie test during the first week of practice. It was a decision based on the fact that he was undoubtedly a highly-experienced, highly-skilled open wheel veteran racer, who probably needed little time to acclimate. It seems like since then, many exceptions have happened. Drivers can do ROP during a private/offseason test, or during morning hours (of a normal practice day) before the track officially opens. And now ROP isn't even a full day. It's just part of a day. The officials have broad discretion in allowing drivers to conduct their ROP/rookie tests at alternate times...especially if their schedule doesn't allow.
          Doctorindy.com

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          • #6
            Originally posted by rjohnson View Post
            Thanks for the responses.

            Doctorindy, when I look at the Daily Trackside Reports for 1980 and 1981, the description of rookie test requirements (two 20-lap phases: one at 160 mph+, and another at 170 mph+), they are identical. And I know that for many years prior to 1980, there were various phases of rookie tests. So just what changed with the introduction of ROP in 1981?
            As I recall Roger McCluskey was instrumental in getting the first ROP in place. There was a lot of concern, especially as the speeds rose, from the veterans about the rookies being on track and trying to get the tests in, especially the first phases.
            "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal".

            John Kennedy at American University 1963

            "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power"

            A. Lincoln

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            • #7
              Thanks for the additional commentary. It's really helping.

              For all readers of this thread: does anyone have a listing of the speeds/number of laps for the various phases year-by-year? I know it's a longshot, but thought I'd ask.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Doctorindy View Post

                But there was no dedicated track time specifically reserved for rookies. You just had to fit your time in. When a rookie presented himself to take the test, I'm pretty sure they'd clear the track and he'd have it mostly to himself. But all of the rookie tests weren't always finished before the chief steward dropped the speed limits and [effectively] opened the track to everyone. It could be the second or third week before a rookie finally got around to passing their test. A situation sometimes magnified by rookies on small budget teams...teams having trouble getting their cars ready and up to speed to begin with.
                They didn't clear the track. The rookies had the stripes on their cars and that's how a veteran knew he was coming up on a rookie on his test. The stripes came off, usually in some form of informal ceremony, once the driver passed. How the rookie driver handled the faster traffic was something the veteran observers watched for. As for how late in the month they still conducted the tests, if you hadn't passed by the Wednesday before the second weekend of qualifying that was that. You were done for the month and you had to start all over again next year.

                It was very common for rookies to be in cars that either weren't fast enough to pass all of the phases, weren't reliable enough, or both. Janet Guthrie almost didn't complete her test in 1976 because her woefully underprepared car couldn't stop leaking oil long enough for he finish her phases until it finally held together long enough. Because of lack of speed, reliability, or both it was not unusual for a driver to pass his test in a different better car on loan from another team. It also wasn't unheard for a driver to take and pass his test in one car, then try to qualify in a better car.

                ROP started in 1981 as noted, but there were still drivers who had phases to complete once the track opened for practice because they couldn't get through it all during ROP because their cars weren't up to snuff.

                IMO, rookie tests became an arcane waste of time by the mid 1980s. With the advent of mass produced competitive cars that easily went fast enough, and drivers that weren't racing on a big paved high speed track in a high powered car for the first time in their careers (especially full time drivers who had already competed in Indycar races earlier in the season) like they may had back in earlier decades the issue of whether or not a rookie could handle a car around IMS was moot.
                Last edited by DaveL; 04-19-2021, 09:43 AM.
                The Ayn Rand of Indycar

                No one had to badge the Offy.

                Crapping all over threads since 2000.

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                • #9
                  [Q

                  IMO, rookie tests became an arcane waste of time by the mid 1980s. With the advent of mass produced competitive cars that easily went fast enough, and drivers that weren't racing on a big paved high speed track in a high powered car for the first time in their careers (especially full time drivers who had already competed in Indycar races earlier in the season) like they may had back in earlier decades the issue of whether or not a rookie could handle a car around IMS was moot.[/QUOTE]

                  Agree. Though it might have been nice/wise to have had a day or two simply set aside for rookie/refresher track time, for their comfort and to make sure they didn't get in the way. No test to pass and if officials/veterans saw something they didn't like it could be addressed.

                  "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal".

                  John Kennedy at American University 1963

                  "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power"

                  A. Lincoln

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Belanger99 View Post
                    [Q

                    Agree. Though it might have been nice/wise to have had a day or two simply set aside for rookie/refresher track time, for their comfort and to make sure they didn't get in the way. No test to pass and if officials/veterans saw something they didn't like it could be addressed.
                    Setting aside time for Rookie Practice is fine, no problem. But a professional driver having to prove in a test he can successfully lap the speedway at speed? No.
                    The Ayn Rand of Indycar

                    No one had to badge the Offy.

                    Crapping all over threads since 2000.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by DaveL View Post

                      But a professional driver having to prove in a test he can successfully lap the speedway at speed? No.
                      Especially since the speeds for the Phases are pretty low. I recall when Fernando Alonso had his special day-long ROP/Rookie test, it almost seemed funny that he had to go through the phases. IIRC, Marco shook down the car that morning, and both he and Michael were saying they had to dial in so much wing just to keep him under/within those phase speed limits.

                      It's such a different era now, we don't really have "inexperienced" rookies coming from a wide range of commensurate backgrounds. That weed-out process isn't something that happens much anymore. Most arrive at Indy from the Road To Indy or the F1 ladders (or even F1), and have appreciable experience in high speed open wheel cars. Very few arrive having never driven an Indy car, and those that do, are typically champions of other top level series (e.g. Kurt Busch, Alonso). I don't think they should just flatly eliminate the tests, but it should be something more like...."25 laps at racing speed".
                      Doctorindy.com

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Doctorindy View Post

                        It's such a different era now, we don't really have "inexperienced" rookies coming from a wide range of commensurate backgrounds. Most arrive at Indy from the Road To Indy or the F1 ladders (or even F1), and have appreciable experience in high speed open wheel cars. I don't think they should just flatly eliminate the tests, but it should be something more like...."25 laps at racing speed".
                        I say not even. Give them their own time set aside for practice.

                        Back in 2012 Kat Legge whizzed through the whole thing in 45 minutes like it was nothing. What did making her do all of this prove?

                        I'm pretty sure that during the Split if a CART driver was doing a one off they didn't have to do ROP. I think in Alonzo's case he didn't actually have to do but it was done by choice.
                        The Ayn Rand of Indycar

                        No one had to badge the Offy.

                        Crapping all over threads since 2000.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Doctorindy View Post

                          Especially since the speeds for the Phases are pretty low. I recall when Fernando Alonso had his special day-long ROP/Rookie test,................................ saying they had to dial in so much wing just to keep him under/within those phase speed limits.
                          ................................................., but it should be something more like...."25 laps at racing speed".
                          You idea of laps at racing speed for rookies makes perfect sense. The test served their purpose for years and probably saved a lot of lives by giving drivers time to learn how to race on a track bigger and faster than anywhere they had ever run before.

                          Today the cars are so good and are driven flat out 99.9% of the time at Indianapolis that the track itself has become one of the easiest tracks to drive on the entire circuit. In a properly setup car any professional driver can run fast right away.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by DaveL View Post
                            I'm pretty sure that during the Split if a CART driver was doing a one off they didn't have to do ROP.
                            It wasn't uncommon for CART regulars to be exempted from ROP, and in very special cases, even allowed to skip the Rookie test itself. It seems they softened those rule during the height of the split.

                            As an example, in 2000 Juan Pablo Montoya was not at IMS for ROP weekend, which was scheduled for Fri-Sat April 7-8. He couldn't attend because CART was at Nazareth that weekend. Incidentally, that's the year it snowed, and the race was rescheduled for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend anyway. In addition, Montoya and Jimmy Vasser had just done an IRL test at Las Vegas a week prior.

                            Rain washed out ROP at IMS on Friday and Saturday, and it was moved to Sun-Mon-Tues, along with the scheduled Open Test that week. interestingly, the roster of ROP that year was a list of decidedly inexperienced Indy car drivers...Sarah Fisher, Ross Cheever, Russ Gamester, Doug Didero, and others. JPM would have looked like an NFL player playing with the high school JV squad.
                            The four phases were
                            10 laps at 195-200 mph
                            10 laps at 200-205 mph
                            10 laps at 205-210 mph
                            10 laps over 210 mph

                            Montoya and Vasser arrived at IMS on Monday to join the Open Test. JPM was not required to pass the four phases of the rookie test that day, and was permitted to practice during the veteran session right away. By his fourth lap he ran a 217, and was up to 219 by the end of the day...second fastest for the day.

                            ***

                            All that said, it seems they've shifted back towards requiring testing...after cautiously moving away from testing (for CART crossovers) during the Split. Scott McLaughlin did his rookie test back in October, and Indy-only and part-time veterans (Castroneves, etc.) all have to take Refesher Tests before practice. As if Helio doesn't know his way around IMS.
                            Doctorindy.com

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Doctorindy View Post

                              All that said, it seems they've shifted back towards requiring testing...after cautiously moving away from testing (for CART crossovers) during the Split. Scott McLaughlin did his rookie test back in October, and Indy-only and part-time veterans (Castroneves, etc.) all have to take Refesher Tests before practice. As if Helio doesn't know his way around IMS.
                              Yeah, I don't know what making Helio do a "refresher" actually accomplishes. Back in the day, rookies had to do refreshers at Indy even if they already started and competed in 500s at Ontario and Pocono. Just what they were testing is beyond me.

                              Thank you for the very informative post about JPM and ROP.
                              The Ayn Rand of Indycar

                              No one had to badge the Offy.

                              Crapping all over threads since 2000.

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