Varying goals for four Indy 500 rookies

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Final preparations are in the books for the quartet of rookies who will be making their Indianapolis 500 debuts this Sunday.

Only one of the four is contesting the full IZOD IndyCar Series season, Schmidt Peterson’s Tristan Vautier. Team Penske’s AJ Allmendinger is in the midst of his IndyCar return from a seven-year NASCAR sojourn, while Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly have had polar opposite IndyCar series debuts throughout the month of May.

Munoz starts second for the 500 after a whirlwind month of doing double duty for Andretti Autosport. His Firestone Indy Lights commitment for the month ended Friday when he led 27 laps in the Firestone Freedom 100, but fell from first to fourth on the last lap when Peter Dempsey, Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam all passed him.

Still, Munoz will be able to take what he learned into his IndyCar debut Sunday.

“I learned, really, that I can’t be leading going into the last lap. It’s like the death penalty,” Munoz joked during the post-race press conference.

For Allmendinger, who starts fifth in the No. 2 IZOD Chevrolet, a 500 debut is like a homecoming after his open-wheel hiatus.

“I’ve thought a lot about that. Honestly, maybe it’s my background and where I came from,” he said. “Daytona is special and believe me, I’d love to win the Daytona 500 one day. But we haven’t even gotten to Sunday yet and walking in this place, walking through Gasoline Alley and taking it all in – there’s nothing that comes close to it. It’s so special.”

Vautier starts 28th after a wicked qualifying run, where he was on the edge of adhesion and the limit of grip, hanging on for dear life. His pace was stunted by hitting the hard rev limiter on two of his four laps. It’s a far cry from when he made qualifying look easy in his first two races, at St. Petersburg and Barber, when he qualified in the Firestone Fast Six.

“We expected a tough qualifying because of the Long Beach engine change, so we couldn’t put a fresh engine in,” he said. “We had to make the most of it and maximize everything on the chassis. Considering that, it wasn’t so bad.”

Meanwhile, Daly – who spent Media Day with a check for all of $0.31 to equal his 31stt starting position – will have the thrill of a lifetime spending race day at Indianapolis on the grid, rather than a spectator, for the first time in his 21 years. A lifelong Hoosier, Daly is the son of Derek Daly, an ex-Formula One and IndyCar driver, and a six-time Indy 500 starter. Daly is balancing this race with a full season of GP3 in Europe.

“I know how much my heart races as a fan. So it will be pretty cool,” he said. “Now I’m part of this deal. Slowly walk around and see who I can see. Now I have my own program, and I’m ready to start race myself.”

Ferrari signs Callum Ilott to young driver academy

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Ferrari has confirmed the signing of rising British racer Callum Ilott to its prestigious driver academy ahead of the 2018 season.

Ilott, 18, is a former member of Red Bull’s junior program, and has spent the last three years racing in the FIA European Formula 3 series, taking eight race wins.

After finishing the 2017 season fourth in the championship with Prema Powerteam, Ilott has now linked up with the Ferrari Driver Academy in the next step of his racing career, becoming its first British member.

“Ferrari Driver Academy is pleased to announce that British driver Callum Ilott is the latest promising young driver to be selected for its development program,” an announcement from Ferrari reads.

“18 years old, Ilott joins the FDA in his third season in car racing, having just finished the FIA F3 European Championship. He comes with a strong pedigree in international Formula 3 racing, having made the jump directly from karting as reigning European Champion.

“Ilott joins Charles Leclerc, Antonio Fuoco, Guan Yu Zhou, Giuliano Alesi, Marcus Armstrong and Enzo Fittipaldi in the programme, which supports talented young drivers on their career path in motorsport.”

Besides its existing roster, the Ferrari Driver Academy also played a part in the careers of Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and the late Jules Bianchi.