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Rookies kick off Indy 500 month

James Hinchcliffe, Newman/Haas, Indianapolis practice 2011Track activity for this year's Indianapolis 500 got underway on Thursday as the newcomers in the field kicked off the mandatory rookie orientation programme.

All drivers who have not raced an IndyCar at Indianapolis before are required to complete four phases of the programme, building up speed to increasingly quick prescribed levels.

Full-season rookies JR Hildebrand (Panther), James Hinchcliffe (Newman/Haas), Charlie Kimball (Ganassi) and James Jakes (Dale Coyne) were joined yesterday by Indy entrants Ho-Pin Tung (Schmidt Dragon), Scott Speed (Dragon) and Pippa Mann (Conquest).

They all completed at least three of the four phases of the programme, with Jakes still needing to finish part four.

Renault Formula 1 reserve driver Tung said his first laps around Indy had been a memorable experience.

"It was a very exciting day," he said. "Everyone knows that the Indianapolis Speedway is one of the greatest tracks in the world and to be here as a driver and to be actually driving a car here is a very special experience."

Indy Lights graduates Hildebrand, Kimball, Mann and Hinchcliffe have all raced at the track in IndyCar's feeder formula, and Hinchcliffe said Indianapolis still felt familiar in the top-class car.

"The speed was a bit of a refresher the first couple of laps but as I got up to speed, again, like I said on the road and street courses, the car is a pretty logical progression from the Indy Lights car so I was very happy to see that," he said.

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