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Indy 500 2012: Josef Newgarden, Rubens Barrichello Lead Rookie Drivers

Christopher LeoneSenior Analyst IMay 24, 2012

Indy 500 2012: Josef Newgarden, Rubens Barrichello Lead Rookie Drivers

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    Twelve combined Formula One wins. Two USAC National Drivers' Championships. Four Firestone Freedom 100 victories.These are the accomplishments of a selective, very talented crop of drivers.The one thing they have in common?

    All of them are Indianapolis 500 rookies this year.

    This year's selection of first-timers attempting to make it into "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing" puts most rookie classes to shame with its accomplishments. Their backgrounds span the globe from the dirt tracks of Midwestern America to every European single-seater formula.

    They've made starts from Le Mans to Monaco to Indianapolis (albeit in other series, of course). And all of them have done more than enough to earn their way here.

    Eight rookies, representing five nations, have qualified for this year's Indianapolis 500. Here they are:

No. 6 Katherine Legge

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    Dragon Racing Chevrolet, Starting 30th

    After a lengthy engine supply debacle that postponed her rookie orientation practice to just days before qualifying, Legge finally made her Indianapolis debut on Thursday in a Chevrolet-powered Dallara.

    She didn't make a qualifying attempt until Bump Day, but she managed to post a reasonable qualifying run. Legge has only made one career oval start in the past in a Champ Car race at Milwaukee in 2006, but she made series history by leading 12 laps, thus becoming the first woman to lead in Champ Car history.

No. 8 Rubens Barrichello

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    KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, Starting 10th

    The Brazilian veteran of 19 Formula One seasons, who has run every edition of the United States Grand Prix, has the most Indianapolis experience of all rookies.

    With Ferrari, Rubens Barrichello scored four podium finishes in six attempts, including the victory in 2002. He posted the second-fastest rookie qualifying run on Saturday, barely missing the nine-car shootout for pole at the end of the day, but he'll still start directly behind teammates Tony Kanaan (eighth) and E.J. Viso (ninth).

No. 19 James Jakes

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    Dale Coyne Racing Honda, Starting 17th

    2012 represents James Jakes's second appearance at Indianapolis after failing to qualify for the race last year in the older generation Dallara. Still with Dale Coyne Racing, the longtime European single-seat racer still has a ways to go on the ovals, but a strong qualifying run late on Saturday put him 17th on the grid and shows that the young British driver is ready to make his mark.

No. 39 Bryan Clauson

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    Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, Starting 31st

    Bryan Clauson earned his way into this year's 500 field by winning his second consecutive USAC National Drivers Championship. He had an incredible run going in Saturday's qualifying before the car stepped out on the final lap and smacked the outside wall.

    After the crew spent all of Saturday night repairing the car, Clauson qualified conservatively on Sunday. A series of strong practice runs, however, should suggest that he has the speed to make his way back up to the front.

No. 41 Wade Cunningham

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    A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda, Starting 26th

    Wade Cunningham's long and winding saga to the Indy 500 is finally over. It only took him six starts in the Indy Lights Freedom 100, three of which he won, and an apprenticeship with AFS Racing in a handful of other oval events last year, but it was enough to impress the great A.J. Foyt.

    Thus, Cunningham received Foyt's second Indy ride alongside Mike Conway, and over the course of the first week of practice, he was one of the fastest rookies on the charts.

No. 64 Jean Alesi

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    Fan Force United Lotus, Starting 33rd

    Despite the best efforts of both team and driver to pass rookie orientation practice, Alesi and FFU have been frustrated by the underpowered nature of the Lotus. Alesi has gone so far as to call his lack of speed "unsafe" to the press.

    It's a shame for all involved—FFU put together the effort on about a week's notice and has wrung every bit of speed possible out of the car—but at more than 10 miles per hour off the pace, it's clear that a certain engine manufacturer didn't do its homework.

No. 67 Josef Newgarden

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    Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, Starting 7th

    Like J.R. Hildebrand last year, Newgarden is the trendy rookie pick to win this year's event. He topped the speed charts during the first week of practice with relative frequency, ranking in the Top Three on five of the first six practice days and posting the fastest lap of the day three times.

    Come Saturday's qualifying, Newgarden, not Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti, represented the only Honda in the first three rows.

No. 77 Simon Pagenaud

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    Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports Honda, Starting 23rd

    The flying Frenchman has been the biggest surprise of this year's IndyCar season thus far, nearly winning at Long Beach and frequently running towards the front of the pack.

    Despite never having run an oval race in his career, Simon Pagenaud is lucky enough to partner with Sam Schmidt, taking over the car that won last year's pole with Alex Tagliani. He'll also have the advantage of working with Townsend Bell, who finished an impressive fourth here in 2009.

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