SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Five days into open practice at Indianapolis, Rubens Barrichello went searching in the infield motorhome lot for some advice. In 114 laps during the Wednesday practice, Barrichello's best lap was 216.741mph – good for just 26th off 30 teams who practiced.
"He brought chocolate with him," said Dario Franchitti, the four-time and defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion, "Which was a good start."
The moment would've been priceless to racing buffs. Franchitti, easily the most prolific IndyCar driver of the last decade in terms of wins and championships, talking racing with Barrichelllo, an 11-time winner in Formula One during an expansive 18-year career. Their paths crossing on a race track seemed unimaginable even as 2011 became 2012.
Yet there they were. The Scot and Brazilian, trying to solve Indianapolis over chocolate. Barrichello, who turned 40 Wednesday, will compete in his first Indianapolis 500 Sunday.
The Brazilian didn't need much help, Franchitti insisted.
"Scott [Dixon] and I both followed him and ran with him Tuesday," Franchitti said. "He was crossing below the white line, middle of corner. I said, 'Hey, you can't do that.' "
It was just a little correction to Barrichello's line – don't dive the car so low in Indianapolis' four corners – from an experienced Indianapolis winner, but the improvement was immediate. Barrichello jumped six spots on the speed chart the next day and gained an average of three miles per hour on his fastest lap.
"He's so experienced, has such a good feel for the car, such a good driver," Franchitti said. "You just give him a little bit of advice that we've all had to have here at some point or other and off he goes.
"He's absolutely world-class."
Barrichello showed it Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, putting his KV Racing No. 8 10th in the qualifying grid for the 96th Indianapolis 500. The position put him right in line with the rest of his KV teammates – Tony Kanaan was eighth and E.J. Viso ninth. Barrichello even topped Franchitti by six spots – though KV's Chevrolet engines seemed to pull more power in qualifying trim than Chip Ganassi's Hondas.
Most importantly, Barrichello's speed has silenced any doubts that his prowess on road courses wouldn't translate to an oval. Indianapolis will be the first oval Barrichello has competed on, though he did race on the track's road course in Formula One competition.
Kanaan, his teammate now and friend for 21 years, is thrilled to have Barrichello turning laps at a place that has done so much to build Kanaan's legacy. The former Indianapolis 500 pole winner said the roles are finally reversed.
"Finally, after 21 years of friendship, I can teach him something because it was always the other way around. I get a kick out of that," said Kanaan, also from Brazil. "Sometimes it's fun; sometimes we have our moments between each other, as well. It's been a different experience."
Neither ever thought they'd get to race on the same track for a prize on the level of the Indianapolis 500. It led to a helmet swap where Kanaan wore Barrichello's in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 while Barrichello donned Kanaan's in the Monaco Grand Prix on the same day.
"We said, 'I'm never going to make it there; he [is] probably never going to make it here,'" said Kanaan.
Now together thanks in part to Kanaan's relentless pursuit of Barrichello to test a KV car at Sebring before the season, the two may be the most impressive pranksters in the Indianapolis garage. Barrichello showed off his wit during a media visit last week, handing a microphone back to his team co-owner Jimmy Vasser without the cord. Beyond their fun, Indianapolis has proved to throw a new curve at Barrichello each day.
Before qualifying, Barrichello was talking with his race engineer when he discovered the qualifying format meant up to three attempts per day.
"I said, 'What? Do we really?' I'm really a rookie here. I never expect that you have three attempts," said Barrichello. "I just thought you go to qualify and that was it, then you can test the whole day.
"It's only the beginning for me. It's a new experience.
Even just driving the car, he said, has created new demands on his body.
"I'm been starting to feel some pain on my shoulder because the neck is like this the whole time," said Barrichello, pointing at his right shoulder blade with his head tilted left. "It's all about finesse. You got to be precise with everything."
Building that finesse is tough to do in IndyCar after moving from the intricate details of technology that make Formula One racecars the most advanced in the world.
"You have to hang onto the car going to the straight because it pulls to the left. When you go for the brakes for the first time, they're cold. I never had that experience," said Barrichello.
Barrichello didn't return to Formula One this season after his contract with Williams wasn't renewed in favor of a younger Brazilian, Brunno Senna. Still, the demands will be on him and the entire KV team come Sunday.
"Obviously there is a lot of pressure on our team now," Kanaan said. "We grow quite fast between the names, the sponsors, and everybody is expecting a lot of things. So do we. We're working on it."
"People [in Brazil], they might think, 'It's just four corners,' " said Barrichello. "I'll tell you, those four corners are much more difficult than many of the other corners I've done in my whole life. It's a lot of setup and a lot of things going on."