Giebler confident he can outshine Duno in rookie race

INDIANAPOLIS -- Phil Giebler's recent racing résumé looks like a bowl of alphabet soup.

The 27-year-old from Oxnard, Calif., has been to Europe and back through F3, F3000, the Indy Pro Series, Formula Atlantic and A1GP. And though the road-racing prodigy's original goal was F1, Giebler's European adventure didn't pan out and he has instead set his sights on the IRL's IndyCar Series, where he is one of two first-time drivers competing for rookie of the year in the 91st Indianapolis 500.

The other Indy neophyte, converted sports-car racer Milka Duno, has attracted a lot more fan and media interest and attention because she hopes to become the third female driver in this year's field. But within Gasoline Alley, Giebler is given a better chance of winning the $25,000 rookie prize sponsored by Chase.

"I try not to make comparisons," Giebler said, shortly before turning his first laps of the month in his No. 31 Panoz-Honda. "If I do my job properly, there shouldn't be any question about who deserves the rookie award."

Giebler completed his Indianapolis rookie test May 6 in the No. 21 car of Playa del Racing teammate Jaques Lazier, reaching a top speed of just over 217 mph. Since then, he's had to remain patient and watch others pound around The Brickyard while his own car was prepared for a second weekend qualification attempt.

On Thursday afternoon, he was still being fitted to the brand-new Panoz, but he was above 216 mph within five laps.

"It's so great to get this opportunity," Giebler remarked. "I've been trying so hard for so many years and I'm glad Playa del Racing believed in me and took the chance to put me in the IndyCar. Hopefully it will pay off for them."

Perseverance is nothing new for Giebler, who was a national champion kart racer and one of only two Americans in the last quarter-century to win an international karting event. Keen to break into F1, Giebler stuck it out in Europe as he made the transition into cars, competing in Formula Renault, Formula 3 (in France, Germany, England and Spain) and Formula 3000 from 1998 to 2003 before the money ran out.

A few days before the start of the 2004 season, Giebler accepted an offer to drive Duesenberg Racing's Indy Pro Series car. Though he had never raced on an oval, Giebler won his IPS debut at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"The Pro Series definitely helped me," Giebler said. "It was a great introduction to oval racing, and as a development series, it did exactly what it was supposed to do."

Still, he bounced around between the IPS and the Champ Car Atlantic Championship for two years, waiting for an opportunity in Champ Car or IndyCar.

Although he didn't have a full-time ride then, Giebler kept himself in racing shape by returning to national-level karting.

"It helped me keep my skills sharp and I developed my own team," he said. "Now I've got eight young drivers on my national team."

Now that his IndyCar Series chance has arrived, Giebler is out to make the most of it. He has adapted quickly to the 650-horsepower Panoz-Honda, by far the most powerful racing machine he has piloted.

"It's a missile," Giebler grinned. "As a driver, you always like it when there is more power and more speed. But for a one-off, you have to prepare well and be able to adapt quickly.

"Jaques is a great guy to learn from," he added. "He set the car up and made it easy to just turn some solid laps. The guys have made the car feel safe and easy for me to drive."

Lazier, who has earned one win and 15 top-10 finishes in 51 IndyCar Series starts, is pleased with Playa del Racing's choice for their second car.

"Phil is a good kid," Lazier commented. "He's very anxious to learn and he takes the advice he's given. It's great to have a teammate who is willing to listen and learn from the guys around him and he's going to be a great addition to the team."

For now Giebler is taking things one day at a time. That means getting the car safely into the field Saturday or Sunday, then completing as many laps as possible in Race Day and hopefully finishing as the No. 1 rookie.

"What I really want is the chance to get a full season with some testing to show what I can do," he said. "But this is a good start. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people this month."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.