INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - He didn’t get to kiss the bricks or drench himself in milk, but Rubens Barrichello could not have been happier after safely completing his first Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
The Brazilian missed out on doing the dubious traditional honors reserved for race winner Dario Franchitti but the 39-year-old did claim an unexpected win of some sort.
Of the nine rookies in the field, Barrichello finished the highest, crossing the line in 11th place after a grueling three hour race.
“It was a great achievement today. My first oval experience, it was very different than anything I’ve done,” he said.
“I‘m very proud of what the team achieved. It’s a pity that we didn’t finish top 10 but I can be proud of that for my first time out.”
Despite his rookie status, Barrichello was one of the most experienced drivers in the field, having spent nearly two decades in Formula One before losing his seat and switching to IndyCar this year.
Only a handful of drivers have won the Indy 500 at their first attempt and Barrichello said he never really entertained any thoughts of winning because of his unfamiliarity with oval tracks and the American style of racing.
“I didn’t have many expectations,” he said.
“People were racing hard, it’s just madness out there sometimes.”
Barrichello even found himself leading the race, albeit for only two laps before he pitted, and had a much better debut than another Formula One driver, Jean Alesi.
The 39-year-old Frenchman only snuck into the field as the 33rd and final qualifier but was ordered to retire by the officials after just nine laps because his Lotus was too slow, falling outside the 105 per cent of the leader’s speed.
“We tried many things to avoid a lack of performance but it couldn’t be overcome,” Alesi said.
”It was frustrating but the regulation is fair and I leave with a lot of respect for the Indy 500.
“I hope to return next year. I will start to prepare now.”
Editing by Gene Cherry