Former Champions Return To Indianapolis As Rookies


May 26, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A general view as IndyCar Series drivers race into turn one during the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

These are not your ordinary rookies.  One of the rookies was at the Brickyard last year and the other is a former winner at the infamous track yet hasn’t been to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an open wheel car for eight seasons. Still, the two veteran motorsports champions were at the speedway yesterday for their rookie orientation. Make sense?

35 year old Kurt Busch, who is a NASCAR Sprint Cup regular and former champion, will drive an Andretti Autosport prepared Honda for the upcoming Indianapolis 500 Sunday May 25th. 43 year old Jacques Villeneuve, who has been retired from regular racing for the past several seasons, is driving a Honda-powered Schmidt Petersen Motorsports entry for the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’.

Both drivers were at Indy for part of a rookie test. Though Busch has driven at the track every year in Cup for the past 13 seasons, he has never been seated in an open cockpit car like an IndyCar. Villeneuve hasn’t been at the Brickyard in an IndyCar since 1995 when he won the CART championship along with the Indy 500.

Busch doing the ‘double’

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (left) talks with Kurt Busch. Busch will try to pull off what his boss Stewart did several years ago – doing the ‘double’.

Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Busch will be trying to do the daunting task of 1,100 miles with the ‘double’ this year, when he drives the Indy 500 in the first half of the day before heading to Charlotte for the 600 that evening. Only Tony Stewart, Busch’s boss, has successfully completed all 1,100 miles.  The only other two drivers to attempt the same-day feat are Robby Gordon and John Andretti, who was the first to attempt the “double” 20 years ago.

In NASCAR, Kurt moved over to Stewart Haas Racing this year and already has a victory in the win column. His career at the Brickyard 400 in Cup has been anything but rosy, with only four Top 10s over a 13 year span. Even in the Nationwide series, which has run just twice at Indy, Kurt has only a 34th to his credit.

However, Busch appeared to get up to speed quickly at Indianapolis for his test, hitting the 220 mph mark in weather conditions that weren’t ideal – on and off rain showers and windy conditions. This wasn’t Busch’s first test at the two-and-a-half mile track, having tested at Indy last season as well.  Kurt was comfortable in the cockpit and said,

"“It was nice to settle in and go through the gears. I’m confident with the car.”"

Villeneuve ’95 Winner

For Villeneuve, is was more of a refresher considering the Formula One (F1) champion had not been in an open wheel racecar for eight years – and that was an F1 car. Jacques topped the charts at 217 mph (source: YouTube) and admitted he was a bit rusty and somewhat surprised at getting up to speed saying,

"“The first few laps were a little surprising because I thought I was going fast. Then I looked down and saw 180. So I did another lap, and I looked down and saw 190.”"

While this will be Kurt Busch’s first Indy 500, it’s Jacques Villeneuve’s third attempt.  Again, Villeneuve won the ’95 event and the year before he was second as a true rookie, so his experience, although 19 years ago, might give him the advantage.

Both veteran drivers will be competing with solid teams and if given the right circumstance, either ‘rookie’ could be challenging for an Indy 500 win.

Source: rtv6 ABC

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