Indy Saturday Notebook - 5
We have bumping at Indy. At the end of qualifications, Milka Duno bumped former Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier from the field with a speed of 218.040 for the first bump of the year. Going into Sunday's qualification attempts, Nelson Philippe is on the bubble, followed by Milka in the 32nd spot. Depending on last minute deals that might materialize, at least 3 cars will not make this year's 500 field.
Milka was able to recover from an earlier run that almost turned into disaster. In her second lap of that first run, she lost all front grip, nearly sending her into the wall. Her later run had a lot more downforce put into the wings for what she called a "safe run." Teammate Davey Hamilton has become something of a driving coach for her, providing constant feedback to her on her efforts.
"It's important to use everything you've got on your team, including your teammates," she commented in a press conference. "You know, this race is so tough. Indianapolis is so fast. You have to have a good car and good balance. Everybody that's here is a good driver. Even for a super driver that won the race before, it's just pretty tough."
Still not in the show are Stanton Barrett, Bruno Junqueira, and of course Buddy Lazier. Tomorrow's weather is supposed to be cooler, and the winds calmer, so speeds might be higher. If so, anything below a 220 mph average might be vulnerable. However, Lazier and Barrett were mired at the bottom of today's speed charts around 219.500, and Bruno's car did not see the track today. Barrett's qualification attempt averaged only 217.998, and Lazier might have some speed if he finds consistency. “There is more speed in the car, and we just need to work with it and figure out how to get the speed out of it. The car is comfortable, maybe a little too comfortable," Barrett later commented.
Making the show solidly is former CART standout Alex Tagliani, at 220.553. Alex said that he didn't realize what he'd missed by not running Indy because of The Split. “It’s actually unbelievable because when I started my career in CART in 2000, I was a driver that just got a ride. I was racing against Franchitti and all these guys, so I felt happy to get a ride. It was the most important thing for me, but I didn’t realize until I drove the first lap (at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) what I missed all these years not having the chance to race at Indy. ... I was happy that the engineer said, ‘Out and in,’ on the install lap, because I was like looking all over the place thinking, ‘I’m here; it’s so unbelievable.’ You can never predict how your career is going to turn out, but I was always in a seat and never had the chance to race at Indy. Now that the two series joined back together as one open-wheel series, it’s the best thing that could ever happened for me. That’s how I got the chance to come here. I feel very privileged and honored. I’ve been enjoying every minute of being at the Speedway.”
Dreyer and Reinbold racing saw both cars make the field today. Mike Conway made the show with a probably-safe 220.124. As noted, Milka made the show with a much less safe time. “I wasn’t sure what to expect in qualifying," Conway later stated. "Those were some of the best laps we laid down all day. The car felt more comfortable, and it was good to run a good average."
John Andretti is currently in the 31st position with a vulnerable speed of 219.442. His frustration was written all over his face in the press conference following the race. "We just haven’t found that trick that the car really likes and hit it. We’re making progress, but we’re running out of time. Tomorrow is the end. You either figure it out or not.”
Equally disappointed was Ryan Hunter-Reay. “I just don’t have any answers anymore. These guys work hard, and the car is super-slow. I feel bad for them in that way. We’re trimming to levels where we should be another 2 miles an hour quicker, and we’re not. I don’t know." His crewed summed up their confidence this way -- "The weekend isn't over yet." Tim Wohlford reporting from Indy