With the first two phases of Rookie Orientation out of the way, the small Lotus Fan Force United team, driving with Jean Alesi, has already achieved far more than their detractors have ever thought possible. From a car that wasn't even assembled a few days ago to turning laps at the Speedway, the Firestone Indy Lights team has worked to get the job done, quickly, and in a big way.
No one's quite sure how this wild, surprise journey at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will turn out, but I was able to ask team co-owner Tyce Carlson Six Quick Questions about his team's run at this year's Indy 500:
How long had your team been looking at running the 500 this year, and when did this deal finally come together?
TC: As of last week, we had no plans at all to run the 500. Our focus was solely on our Indy Lights program, with our full-season program with Armaan Ebrahim. We had added Emerson Newton-John for the Freedom 100, so we knew we had twice the amount of work ahead of us. Of course, we had aspirations to run IndyCar and the Indy 500, but we knew that was going to be 2013 at the earliest. When this opportunity presented itself to us last week, we ran with it.
Your team does have some Indy experience in the ranks, including Tyce's two Indy 500 starts. Is that having a steadying influence in terms of what to expect this month?
TC: Probably. More importantly than that, we were fortunate to be able to call on some really good people, and they have been put in place for a reason. I'm going to rely on them. We already had a pretty solid team established for our Lights program, and they are truly the foundation of our Indy 500 effort.
What does having experienced hand such as Greg Beck and Tim Wardrop on board mean for your effort?
TC: It means the world to us. We would have never considered doing this if we didn't already have that foundation in place, with Greg and Tim on board for the full season with Armaan. I have some history with Greg, as he was my engineer and team manager when I raced for Hubbard-Immke Racing. Our team manager, Ted Bitting, has probably been the most crucial member of the operation over the last week, as there was no way we could have pulled this off so quickly, in every way from crew to parts, without Ted's hard work. Of course, it's more than Greg and Tim working on the car. We have Owen Snyder, Brad Brewer, Mike Colliver, Ian Brown, and others. It's just a ton of Indy experience in our garage right now. I sit back and watch them work and I think it's pretty cool.
With a late, surprise announcement and an Indy rookie driving for you, do you see yourselves as the true underdogs of May?
TC: I don't look at us as the underdogs, though it's always nice to have people pulling for us, whatever the reason. Every team out here has the same challenges. The goals are to get competitive, comfortable, and to be able to give our driver a solid racecar that he can run all day without any problems. So underdogs or not, the focus is the same, and we want to do everything we possibly can to get all of our drivers as close to the top step of the podium as possible.
What sort of expectations does the team have for their first foray at Indy?
TC: We just plan on setting goals and meeting them. We've been doing that for the last few days, and that's what we'll keep on doing. So we plan to complete ROP, move on to getting plenty of track time, prepare for qualifying, qualify, prepare a good race car, run fast in the race, and finish the 500 miles. So our expectation is that we will meet each one of these goals.
What's it like working with Jean Alesi in this effort?
TC: With the way that everything has come together, I have not yet had much one-on-one time with Jean. The interaction level is a bit different than it would have been had a program come together in the more traditional way. He's busy with the car and the engine and the engineering staff, and you can imagine how busy all of us have been in general, so we have not had a lot of time to talk. Of course, you know I'm a fan, so we've had some very pleasant conversations. I'm just excited to know that he's happy with what he's seen from us and very confident about what he's doing and his prospects for success.
Special thanks to the folks at Lotus Fan Force United for finding time to get this interview in!