The 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place on Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 12:00pm EST. This historic race is the crown jewel of the IZOD IndyCar Series and arguably the grandest race of American motorsports. The diverse field includes 8 first-time Indy drivers, who will be competing not only for victory in the race, but also for the coveted Rookie of the Year Award. Here is a look at 5 rookie drivers on which to keep a close eye during the 2012 Indianapolis 500.
Rubens Barrichello: The jovial Brazilian joins Jean Alisi as former Formula One racers making their debut at this year's Indianapolis 500. While Alisi is likely to be a non-factor in a slow Lotus, Barrichello employed strong Chevrolet power to qualify 10th overall in the field. During a 20 year career in Formula One, the KV Racing driver gained substantial experience, but this race intimidatingly will prove his first test on an oval track. Yet, Barrichello's roots are similar to countrymen Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves -- drivers who have displayed mastery at Indy over the years. If he stays out of early trouble, the 40 year-old rookie may surprise.
Simon Pagenaud: Though he disappointingly qualified in 23rd place, Pagenaud has been the surprise of the 2012 IndyCar season. Driving for Schmidt-Hamilton Racing, the Indianapolis rookie impressively sits 5th overall in points. The 28 year-old nearly won at Long Beach, where he finished with a career-best 2nd place, and he has posted top 10 finishes in 3 of 4 races. Indianapolis will undoubtedly serve as his toughest challenge yet. But early-season exploits indicate the Frenchman is motivated to stick around the IZOD IndyCar Series, following successful stints in Champ Car and the American Le Mans Series.
Wade Cunningham: What would the Indianapolis 500 look like without the presence of A.J. Foyt? Thankfully fans won't learn, as the longtime owner placed cars into this year's field for Cunningham and Mike Conway. However, despite dominance as a driver and a trip to victory lane in 1999 with Kenny Brack, A.J. Foyt Enterprises has not been competitive for some time. Conway is the team's full-time driver and has struggled in 2012. The 27 year-old Cunningham may be Foyt's best chance to shine at the Indy 500. The New Zealander competed in the Indy Lights feeder series for 6 years and won 3 Freedom 100's right here at IMS. The part-time driver will be making his season debut and starts in the 9th row.
Katherine Legge: For the first time since 2004, the Indy 500 will lack the ratings-grabbing glamor of current NASCAR driver Danica Patrick. Though largely under-achieving in IndyCar, this was one track where the blistering brunette bombshell was always a threat. Joining 3rd year female entrants Simona de Silvestro and Ana Beatriz, the rookie Dragon Racing driver will compete with a newly-acquired Chevy power-plant. Though the Brickyard will be the initial IndyCar race for Legge, the 31 year-old once displayed potential during 28 Champ Car events in 2006-2007 alongside many in this year's field. A look at the photos on her Facebook page reveals she shares many of the same eye-catching abilities as Ms. Patrick, so be sure to watch for the British native getting underway in row 10.
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Jeff Briscoe is a longtime follower of the IZOD IndyCar Series and a motorsports fans who prefers his racing without fenders. He resides in Florida, proud home of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.