INDIANAPOLIS – Only once in 41 previous Indianapolis 500-Mile
Races has legendary driver-car owner A.J. Foyt entered Bump Day still trying to
qualify for the race.
That’s the situation Foyt faces this Sunday with drivers Airton Dare, Greg Ray and Donnie Beechler. Neither Dare nor Ray were fast enough on Pole Day last Saturday to complete a qualifying run. Ray pulled into the pits after a 225.916-mph lap as the fourth driver out and then Dare’s run was waved off following laps of 225.357 and 224.639.
Beechler was named Tuesday to drive the No. 14T Harrah’s/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. He drove in nine Indy Racing League events last year for Foyt, including the Indianapolis 500. Beechler started the season with Foyt but suffered a concussion during practice for the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami and hasn’t raced since.
“I want to drive at Indy, and it’s good to be back with a team that I have confidence in,” said Beechler, from Springfield, Ill. “We had a good car here last year, and I’ve been looking forward to coming back to Indy. I think this is going to be one of the tightest fields ever.”
Said Foyt: “I’m pulling out all the stops. Donnie drove a great race here last year, and I’m happy to have him driving for me again at the Speedway.”
Chip Ganassi Racing driver Bruno Junqueira won the MBNA Pole with a speed of 231.342 mph, and Billy Boat was the slowest of 24 qualifiers at 226.589.
When rain wiped out Sunday’s scheduled six hours of qualifying, the time trials were sent into an one-day showdown in Sunday’s third and final day.
Foyt has plenty of company waiting – and hoping – to squeeze its way into the field. No matter their speed Sunday, the nine fastest and any “bumpers” will fill in at the end of the field.
Another prominent unqualified team is Team Green and drivers Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. Two-time winner Arie Luyendyk, holder of all of Indy’s speed records, isn’t in yet, either.
The WESTERN UNION/Duesenberg Brothers Racing team still is waiting to learn whether former Formula One star Johnny Herbert will be available to qualify or must drive in an American Le Mans Series sports-car race Sunday in California.
Others with their fingers crossed include George Mack, seeking to become the second African-American driver to start the race; former driver Buzz Calkins, owner of the Bradley Motorsports car driven by Shigeaki Hattori; Robby McGehee, cleared to drive Monday after suffering injuries in a crash on Opening Day; and rookies Alex Barron and Anthony Lazzaro.
“Biggest thing we’re working on is trying to get in the race,” said Foyt, who in 1978 didn’t get his car qualified until the fourth day. “We’ve got the speed, we’ve just got to back it up. We got some other problems that happened to us. We didn’t get any practice with all the wrecks and the yellows. We just got caught, that’s all it is.”
Foyt said Dare and Ray, both new to his Harrah’s-sponsored team since the start of the season, didn’t get the opportunity to turn enough hot laps until they were sent out to qualify. He thinks his veteran pair will be ready Sunday.
“They’ve already done speeds over 227, both of them, 228,” he said. “We should be all right. We’ll run quite a bit (Wednesday). We’ll make sure everything is copasetic, you know, and back up everything.”
WESTERN UNION/Duesenberg Brothers Racing team manager Greg Beck said he thought of sending Herbert, winner of three F1 races and the 24 Hours of Le Mans during his career, out for a qualifying attempt last Saturday. But Herbert wasn’t turning fast enough laps in his No. 32 Dallara/Chevy/Firestone.
“We’re in a wait mode right now,” Beck said about Herbert’s status. “They’re trying to figure out contractually what he has to do in his program and so on. He certainly desires to be here, but that’s also his bread and butter. We understand that, and we just have to wait for a decision among the powers that be.”
Calkins drove in six straight Indianapolis 500s from 1996-2001, finishing 12th last May, but this is the first time he has been making the decisions as a car owner. Hattori, driver of the No. 12 EPSON Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, was bumped from the field last year as a rookie.
“Our part is just to get the cars up to speed and comfortable and just have some options,” Calkins said. “Really, what we’ve done is kind of gotten our feet back on the ground after issues that have come up this week that we have had to address. It kind of made it so we haven’t been able to get out on the track.
“Now I think we’re finally catching up, and hopefully we’ll have two cars that we can go run with two setups and kind of find out where we want to migrate toward on the setup.”
Calkins sees speeds being somewhat slower Wednesday due to rubber being washed off the track by rain Sunday and Monday.
“We’ll get it figured out,” he said.
Jamie Nanny, chief mechanic on Mack’s 310 Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone, said the team’s main goal this week is to get more laps for Mack.
Mack made one attempt last Saturday, turning a too-slow 223 mph on his first lap and then a 225-mph circuit before being waved off.
“I think George has adapted and responded well,” Nanny said. “A few more days of practice, and I think he’s going to be right up there.”
Boat said this week he will prepare his qualified CURB Records Dallara/Chevy/Firestone machine for the race while readying the backup as a contingency against being bumped.
“It was a bit of a gamble on our part,” he said about taking the slow speed. “But we’ve been there on Bubble Day, we know what it’s like. We know what it takes to get the job done. So if we get put in that position, we’ll go out and try and do it again.”
Junqueira joins pit stop contest: MBNA Pole winner Bruno
Junqueira has accepted an invitation to participate in the Coors Indy 500 Pit
Stop Challenge on Coors Carb Day, May 23.
Junqueira will join 11 other drivers in the competition, which awards a $42,500 first prize. Ten of the 12 participants are set, with the final two determined in a competition May 15.
Hot laps: Joie Chitwood III, vice president and general manager of Chicagoland Speedway, will drive the Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car if needed during the race laps of the 86th Indianapolis 500. Chitwood will take over the wheel from actor Jim Caviezel after the pace laps. Chitwood, grandson of seven-time Indianapolis 500 starter Joie Chitwood, served as Indy Racing League director of administration before taking the Chicagoland post … U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta will join other federal, state and local officials in a press conference at 9:30 a.m. (EST) May 15 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to promote Indiana’s “Click It or Ticket” seat-belt usage awareness and enforcement campaign.
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