BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Rubens Barrichello wants IndyCar to classify him as a rookie.
The IndyCar Series has said no. The Brazilian driver has a record 322 Formula One starts, including 11 wins and 1.5 million Twitter followers.
None of that matters to Barrichello.
He said piloting a still-unfamiliar car at venues where he's never raced makes him every bit the neophyte these days and deserving of the extra practice session granted to rookies and drivers ranked outside the top 10.
"I'm definitely a rookie," Barrichello said Friday. "I can see the likes of (Josef) Newgarden as a rookie. He's done Indy Lights. He knows the track, but he's a rookie because he's so young. (Simon) Pagenaud is a rookie but he has done races before. People are saying that I have 19 years of experience and I'm not a rookie.
"I don't want to run for the championship as a rookie. But when I go to Long Beach — let's say I finish Top 10 here — I don't know the track. I don't know the car very well, and maybe I only have an hour and a half to try on the track. I think this is not right, because I am a rookie. I need that half-hour to learn the track."
He didn't need it quite so badly this weekend. Barrichello, in his debut season in KV Racing Technology's No. 8 car, will compete Sunday in his second IndyCar event, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
At least he spent two days testing at Barber Motorsports Park a couple of weeks ago, even if one was marred by rain.
IndyCar rules merely state that the series decides who receives rookie status.
Beaux Barfield, president of competition, said Friday he made the decision on Barrichello based on past precedent and the level of experience.
IndyCar did not classify Sebastian Bourdais, a winner of 31 open-wheel races, as a rookie last year.
This year, Katherine Legge (28 Champ Car starts) and Pagenaud are rookies. Pagenaud competed in one season of Champ Car in 2007 and ran three IndyCar races in 2011.
In NASCAR, ex-Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya was the 2007 Rookie of the Year.
Going back even further, Nigel Mansell was the reigning Formula One champion and was counted as a CART rookie in 1993, winning the points title.
Tony Kanaan, Barrichello's KV Racing teammate and best friend, also argues that Barrichello meets the definition of a rookie.
"I still don't understand how a guy that never raced in IndyCar cannot be classified as a rookie," Kanaan said. "I understand he's got experience, but so did Simon Pagenaud.
"I still don't understand that."
Improving on a rocky debut is of more immediate concern for Barrichello and his team.
He finished 17th in St. Petersburg, running out of gas with a couple of laps left on the street course. Mechanical difficulties also limited him to eight laps in the first practice session.
Now, he shifts to a road course, and Kanaan thinks he could finish up front.
"I know he's going to do well," he said. "I have no doubt how good he's going to do so for me there will be no surprises. Hopefully he's understanding more and more. It'll be the first race he comes back to a track where he's already tested. I think he can win every race. I definitely have a lot of faith in the guy and I know he's talented."
Barrichello ran 25 laps before the first qualifying session was curtailed by lightning on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn course. He posted the fifth-fastest lap time of 1 minute, 11.60 seconds.
Defending champion Will Power was fastest (1:11.29), followed by Helio Castroneves (1:11.50), Takuma Sato (1:11.56) and rookie Josef Newgarden (1:11.59). A number of drivers didn't bother slogging through the afternoon practice session under heavy rains, with Barrichello's nine laps the third most ahead of Saturday's qualifying.
Now, the Brazilian hopes for a better weekend. He certainly has the seasoning to deal with setbacks like St. Petersburg, and also any critics during his transition.
"We've gotten to a level in our careers — we were talking about it the other day — I don't think we need to prove anything to anybody," Kanaan said. "It's for ourselves and to do good for our team.
"If people want to bash or criticize him, I don't think he cares. He knows what he's doing and when the time is right, he's going to do it."