Originally created 05/18/98

Luyendyk finally makes Indy 500 field



INDIANAPOLIS -- It was not Arie Luyendyk's finest hour at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Luyendyk, the two-time and defending Indianapolis 500 winner who holds numerous speed records on the 2´-mile oval, had to wait until Sunday, the second of two days of qualifications, to earn a starting position in the May 24 race.

Then the two-time Indy pole winner watched former motorcycle champion Jeff Ward snatch away even his chance to be fastest in second-day qualifying.

Luyenduk, hampered for several days by engine trouble and other mechanical problems, turned a four-lap, 10-mile average of 218.935 mph. That same speed on Saturday would have put him ninth on the grid for the 500-mile race.

Instead, the Dutchman will start near the back of the 33-car field.

Ward, who won his first Indy Racing League pole in March at Phoenix and has finished second and fifth in the two races this year, followed Luyendyk onto the track and did four laps at 219.086. That bumped Luyendyk back one spot in the lineup.

The 36-year-old Ward, like Luyendyk, was hampered by engine problems that kept him from even making a qualifying attempt on Saturday. But everything went well Sunday.

"It was easy," said Ward, who took rookie of the year honors last year at Indy by finishing third. "I was almost all out. The car stuck like glue. It wasn't a white-knuckle run."

Luyendyk admitted he was disappointed.

"It's different from what I'm used to, but it just goes to show you that when you have mechanical problems on the day that it counts, you're pretty much out of the running," Luyendyk said. "We were in trouble yesterday because we could not use the spare car, and in the main car we developed an engine problem in the morning and couldn't practice.

"Then it wouldn't run. It could have been electronics or an engine, but it wouldn't run in qualifying and I had to abort the run. That's too bad because the conditions were probably as good as they're ever going to get.

"I was getting pretty psyched about possibly doing 222 to 223 late in the afternoon and surprise a few people."

But Luyendyk, who started from the pole last year with a speed of 218.263, wads somewhat philosophical.

"Those things happen on other race weekends, too," he said. "Things just don't fall into place, and the flow that you try to create in a team is disrupted by some mechanical things.

"Yeah, it is Indianapolis. You always see a lot of things going on here. That's makes it unique and special."

Luyendyk said the though of missing the race would make him cringe.

"I'm glad we got that out of the way today early because we didn't want to sit around and bite our nails the rest of the day," he said.

Sunday's qualifying began with seven spots left in the lineup.

A flurry of activity when time trials reopened at noon filled four of those positions. Besides Ward and Luyendyk, Raul Boesel and rookie Stan Wattles qualified in the early going. Wattles is the seventh rookie in the field.

Eliseo Salazar, who came away from a hard crash in his primary car Saturday with a bruised left shoulder, came back later on the first day of qualifying and waved off an attempt after three laps at just over 216.

He tried again in the early moments of Sunday's session, halting a run after two laps at just over 217, but came back about two hours later to qualify on his third and last chance in that car at 216.259.

Scott Harrington, 15th as a rookie last year, ran one lap at 217.923 before his engine let go and sent him hurtling into the first-turn wall. Harrington, who repeatedly punched the air in frustration after scrambling from the cockpit, was not injured.

That left two more positions to fill before bumping by faster drivers could begin. Among those still hoping to nail down a starting spot before the 6 p.m. close were Lyn St. James, Mike Groff, Stephan Gregoire, Joe Gosek, Hideshi Matsuda, Danny Drinan, Jimmy Kite and Claude Bourbonnais.