“I was a bit unsure because I never did it before and because I had a late start to the season I couldn’t prepare for the ovals well,” said the 22-year-old Verizon IndyCar Series rookie from Colombia. “This race is different because you get a lot of practice, which helped in the decision. If I’m well-prepared, I’m ready to do it.”
Huertas participated May 5 in the formal Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He totaled 77 laps.
Other full-season Verizon Indy Car Series drivers Jack Hawksworth (Bryan Herta Autosport) and Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) were joined by Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Racing) and 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing) on the 2.5-mile oval.
“Being on the oval is weird to start with because everything is so different,” said Huertas, who noted that a decision about competing in the other five oval races will be made after the ‘500.’ “I think the speed was OK. I was just working on the lines and understanding what to do. I think everything is very new, but I think I did OK.”
The program is designed to provide the first-year competitors an opportunity to get acquainted with their cars and the racetrack through three speed phases set by INDYCAR — 10 laps at 200-205 mph, 15 laps at 205-210 mph and 15 laps at 210-plus mph. Driver stewards also monitored car control, placement and a consistent driving pattern.
“It was actually harder for me to go slower (in Phase 1) because you had to lift and I don’t like to lift,” said Aleshin, who also will compete in his first oval race in the No. 7 SMP Racing car. “This is so important and it’s all set now for working with the car in practice for the Indy 500. This will be the first oval race in my career and how awesome is it that it will be the Indy 500?”
All but Karam, whose car developed a mechanical issue that prevented the 19-year-old from Nazareth, Pa., from completing all three phases, completed the program. Per Indianapolis 500 rules, Karam will be allowed to finish the third phase on the first day of practice May 11.
Additionally, NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, who completed his refresher course on the oval April 29 in an Andretti Autosport car, recorded 114 laps and went through some rudimentary pit stops with the No. 26 car crew.
Busch, 35, will attempt to become the fourth driver to attempt the “double” — competing in the 98th Indianapolis 500 and the evening stock car race in Concord, N.C., on May 25. He won the latter in 2010. John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart have each done it, with Stewart — co-owner of Busch’s No. 41 Sprint Cup car at Stewart Haas Racing — becoming the first in 2001 to complete all 1,000 miles. A day earlier, Busch was involved in a multi-car crash in the stock car race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Cars will be on the racetrack for the opening of practice about 18 hours after the checkered flag flies for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the reconfigured road course. Qualifications are May 17-18.