Kurt Busch back to work at Indy; four pass “500” rookie programs (VIDEO)

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Monday was a busy day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as NASCAR driver Kurt Busch continued his IndyCar education and four drivers were able to complete the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program.

After completing his own ROP last week, Busch logged 114 laps this afternoon in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and had his fastest go for 222.289 miles per hour. He also got in some pit stop practice with the Andretti crew:

Meanwhile, Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), Jack Hawksworth (Bryan Herta Autosport), Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing), and Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Racing) all passed their ROPs, ensuring that they’ll be able to take part in “500” practice when it starts this coming Sunday.

Aleshin also cracked 100 laps on Monday, turning 105 on the 2.5-mile oval with a fast lap of 219.170 miles per hour in the No. 7 Honda.

“It was actually harder for me to go slower [in Phase 1 – 10 laps at 200-205 mph] because you had to lift and I don’t like to lift,” the Russian said. “This is so important and it’s all set now for working with the car in practice for the Indy 500.

“This will be the first oval race in my career and how awesome is it that it will be the Indy 500?”

Sage Karam, who announced a “500” sponsorship package this morning with country music label Big Machine and Comfort Revolution, posted the third-fastest time at 218.416 mph but had a mechanical problem develop on his No. 22 Chip Ganassi/Dreyer & Reinbold Chevy.

It kept the 19-year-old from completing the final phase of his ROP (15 laps at 210+ mph), but Karam indicated this afternoon that the matter was no big thing. On Sunday, he’ll get a chance to finish it off.

Hawksworth was fourth-quickest today at 217.936 mph in the No. 98 Honda and chalked up 52 laps. Carlos Huertas (No. 18 Honda) ran 77 laps and topped out at 217.916 mph, while Martin Plowman (No. 41 Honda) hit 217.085 mph in a 90-lap afternoon for him.

“For me, it was massively important to get in the car and dust off the cobwebs and get my feet on the floor,” said Plowman, who is also racing in Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course.

“It’s been more than three years since I’ve driven a car in anger on an oval. Even though I’ve driven pace cars and two-seaters on ovals, it’s not the same. It was nice to remember all the experiences I had in Indy Lights and get a solid confident base in the car.”

Also getting in some work on the oval today was Marco Andretti. The Andretti camp confirmed on Twitter that he was testing aerodynamic components for IndyCar.

Daniel Ricciardo would relish being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Daniel Ricciardo says he would relish the challenge of having Lewis Hamilton as his teammate if he joins Mercedes next year.

Ricciardo is out of contract at Red Bull at the end of the season and expressed interest in joining teams like Mercedes or Ferrari to help him challenge for the championship.

The Australian says he would “love to obviously be challenged against the best and Lewis is obviously up there.”

He adds: “I don’t want to say it’s just Lewis I’m looking for but that would be a good challenge.”

Ricciardo says he won’t accept a faster car if it means playing second fiddle to an established star.

He says “there’s always been really good clarity and fairness (at Red Bull) … and I would expect that environment everywhere.”