Originally created 05/13/02

Rain adds pressure to Indy qualifying



INDIANAPOLIS -- Rain on Sunday washed away the second of three days of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 and increased the pressure on drivers hoping to fill the remaining nine positions in the 33-car field.

Twenty-four cars qualified on Saturday. Thanks to the first complete rainout of an Indy qualifying day in 12 years, the remaining contenders will have to wait until next Sunday to fill the field for the May 26 race.

Once the field is full, faster qualifiers can knock the slowest cars out of the lineup until the end of the final session, meaning more than nine still have at least a chance to race here.

Pole-winner Bruno Junqueira's four-lap qualifying run averaged 231.342 mph and the slowest of the Saturday's qualifiers, Billy Boat, ran a 226.589. It is expected to take four laps at close to Boat's speed to make the race.

The 2 1/2 -mile oval will remained closed Monday and Tuesday, with practice scheduled Wednesday through Saturday.

Most of the non-qualified drivers took the rainout philosophically.

"What we'll do is practice on Wednesday and Thursday and pretend like we're qualified and work on our race setup," said two-time Indy winner Arie Luyendyk. "Come Saturday, we'll get ready to qualify."

Each car is allowed three qualifying attempts and Luyendyk used up two in his primary car on Saturday. Looking for a four-lap average of at least 228, Luyendyk called off one run after three laps at just over 227, then aborted a run after one lap at 227.679 because the car got so loose he almost hit the wall.

In the final moments of the session, Luyendyk went back on track, but came in without taking the green flag.

Skip Faul, his crew chief, said, "We had the front tire sensors swapped. They had the right tires on, but the wrong wheels, so the sensors were not reading the correct pressures and we thought we had a flat."

Luyendyk, who came out of retirement three years ago, but only to race at Indy, was frustrated by the first-day problems. He added, though, he is still confident he can get the car into the race.

"I really don't see that as a problem," said Luyendyk, who admitted he'd rather not have to switch to his unproven backup car. "The next run we take is the one that has to succeed. It's an all-or-nothing deal."

Three-time Formula One winner Johnny Herbert has perhaps the biggest decision to make.

The Indy rookie is scheduled to drive in a sports car race next Sunday in Sonoma, Calif.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but I want to be here for the 26th," Herbert said Sunday while waiting in his Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage, hoping the steady rain would stop. That sort of makes it a little bit easier."

Among others still trying to make the race are Team Kool Green drivers Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti.

Tracy hit the wall during practice on Saturday morning and has no backup car. The team is rebuilding the crashed car at its Indianapolis race shop.

"The chassis is certainly OK," said Kim Green, the team's general manager. "Everything else is certainly not. We are basically building another car back at the shop. The goal is to have it back on the track Wednesday morning."

As for Franchitti, an Indy rookie, Green said, "Dario was about to make a qualifying run yesterday and we lost an engine. I think we were comfortably running in the high 227s and would have been in the show.

"Pretty obviously, we're not going for 230 mile per hour laps anyway. We're not front row material," Green added. "It doesn't matter. We'll just work to put a good, safe car under Dario and Paul that can comfortably make the field."

Michael Andretti, who finished third last year, qualified the third team car, but was a disappointing 23rd at 226.780. Green said the team is preparing Andretti's backup car.

"We don't believe there's enough cars, or maybe even enough drivers at this time, that can get up to speed and knock us out of the field with that car," he said. "But we're going to be ready."

A.J. Foyt, who won here four times as a driver and once as an owner, is used to having cars near the front of the field. Neither of his drivers, former pole-winner Greg Ray and Airton Dare, were among the first-day qualifiers as each waved off one run after laps under 226.

"We found little stuff that can make a big difference on drag," said Foyt team spokesperson Ann Fornoro. "The team is feeling pretty confident and we're sticking with both primary cars."

Other drivers currently assigned to non-qualified cars include Jon Herb and Indy rookies Alex Barron, Oriol Servia, George Mack, Anthony Lazzaro, John de Vries and Shigeaki Hattori. Robbie McGehee and Mark Dismore, recovering from crash injuries, hope to be cleared to drive and several others, including Roberto Moreno, Jimmy Kite, Jaret Schroeder, J.J. Yeley and Memo Gidley, are available should rides materialize.