Unser: Four rookies did exceptional job

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By Dave Lewandowski

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Takuma Sato was almost as surprised as the spectators when IMS Radio Network host Mike King announced over the PA that the No. 5 Lotus car was running sixth with 15 laps left in the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway.

The former Formula One driver, competing in his first IZOD IndyCar Series oval race, was positioned for his first top-10 finish in the series as 24 cars took the green flag on a Lap 186 restart. Then, on the frontstretch, he ran out of room on the 55-foot-wide racing surface.

“There was a pack in front on the restart while I was racing Hideki (Mutoh) side-by-side,” the KV Racing Technology driver from Tokyo said. “It looked like he was pushing up to the wall and I had nowhere to go. After having a conversation with Hideki, he was being pushed up into me by (a lapped car). We both had nowhere to go. It’s very, very unfortunate.

“I feel bad for the fans, particularly for all of the Japanese fans and all of Hideki’s fans. The KV Racing Technology Lotus team did a fantastic job. It’s just frustrating and I’m very disappointed not to finish. However, I really enjoyed racing with many great drivers and gaining a lot of positions as well as understanding how oval racing works.”

Sato and fellow rookies Bertrand Baguette (finished 20th), Simona De Silvestro (21st) and Mario Romancini (22nd) will take the experience to the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sato and De Silvestro will participate in an afternoon test session May 4 at Kentucky Speedway.

Three points to note:

A. Romancini, who won two oval races in Firestone Indy Lights last season, was the only one of the group to have raced in traffic on an oval before the Kansas Speedway race.
B. The rookies received five hours of track time April 28 to digest information and assimilate the nuances of the 1.52-mile racetrack plus one 105-minute practice session (reduced from two sessions because of rain) on April 30.
C. Three of the four first-year drivers were running at the finish, and Sato was in line for a big finish.

“Overall, I think they did exceptionally well,” IZOD IndyCar Series driver coach Al Unser Jr. said. “Romancini had an incident in practice and recovered very well, and again they’ll learn the next step at Indy. Indy is completely different than the high banks of the mile-and-a-half ovals. It’s an oval that is more road course style. Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford, me and everybody will be there to help out.”

Romancini, whose No. 34 Conquest Racing car made heavy contact with the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier in practice April 30, did not make a qualifying attempt. He started from the rear of the grid in the yellow and white car used by Baguette on the road/street courses. Baguette, who started 19th, was in Romancini’s backup car.

“The guys did a good job of building up the car overnight,” said Romancini, who takes a one-point lead over De Silvestro in the Rookie of the Year standings into Indianapolis. “Unfortunately, it was a road course car and we didn’t have time before the race to practice and make changes. We tried to tune the car during the race, but the setup wasn’t great. In the end I just did what I could to bring the car home.”

source http://www.indycar.com

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