Robert Doornbos is trying to keep it simple. Graham Rahal is trying to keep it fast.
Both are making their game plans work.
Instead of looking at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 2 1/2-mile track as one huge oval, rookie Doornbos sees it as two long straightaways separated by four fast corners. He figures that's a lot less tricky to handle than the 13-turn Formula One road course he had to navigate the last time he drove at Indy.
And Rahal, already with two poles this season, wants another one for the race on May 24.
He got on the track for the first time Thursday during an early flurry of activity amid a threat of more rain. Within a half-dozen laps, he reached more than 220 mph.
"Basically, it's an absolutely brand new car that has been at the shop since last fall, and all winter the team has been working on it," Rahal said. "I think they did a pretty good job, because the thing looks fast for sure."
Doornbos, in his first IndyCar season this year as Rahal's teammate with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, easily passed his rookie test on opening day Tuesday but was not among the three who made it onto the track in Wednesday's 45-minute rain-shortened practice session.
Doornbos was back on the track Thursday and, within his first four laps, was up to more than 221 mph. His top lap later in the day was at 223.592, seventh-fastest among the 32 drivers on the track.
"I think it's great. I sleep on the track, I eat on the track, I do everything on the track ... I race on the track, so it's going to be an intense month," said the 27-year-old Dutchman, one of six rookies trying to land spots in the race.
Marco Andretti had the top speed of the day at 225.478 mph.
"We really worked on the car the whole day. The car was good to run with it," Andretti said. "It's super-close out there, and it's going to be even closer as we go on. So hopefully we'll just build on what we did today."
Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe were next at 225.237 and 224.904, respectively, followed by defending champion Scott Dixon at 224.448 and his Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti at 224.160.
Rahal was ninth-fastest at 222.996 mph.
Rahal, who won his IndyCar debut last year at St. Petersburg at 19, started from the pole and finished seventh in two of the first three races this season. He started seventh and finished 12th in the other race, putting him eighth in points heading into Indy. He said there's plenty of time to get ready for pole qualifying Saturday _ unless it rains again.
"It's a shame, and more so because it's no fun to sit here doing nothing all day," said Rahal, who qualified 13th at Indianapolis as a rookie last year but crashed early and finished 33rd.
Doornbos is 13th in points this season, the highest among all rookies, with a best finish of ninth at Long Beach. The next race, at Kansas, he started second and led two laps before finishing 12th.
"I seem to learn fast on the ovals, and the team is doing a good job, so I don't see why we shouldn't be in the top 11 (qualifying spots to be filled Saturday)," he said. "There isn't a big oval feeling to the track."
Doornbos' last appearances at Indianapolis were as an F1 test driver during the U.S. Grand Prix in 2005 and 2006. He also drove in 11 F1 races in '05 and '06 and was the rookie of the year in the former Champ Car series in 2007.
"Obviously it was very different then," he said of his F1 testing at Indy. "You fly in and out for the weekend and it's more like a normal (F1) circuit. ... Now, I already feel the history of the (oval) track with the brickyard and the speed down the straight. I just love it. It wasn't intimidating at all as along as you respect the track.
"If you get to thinking you can be the fastest on the first day, you'll find yourself in the wall."