Bell edges Rahal on day three of qualifying

Bell edges Rahal on day three of qualifying

Within the first two and a half hours of qualifying at Indianpolis on Saturday, the track featured a flurry of activity with 21 cars completing their qualifying attempts for the legendary Indycar race. The main adversary was a crosswind in turn...

Within the first two and a half hours of qualifying at Indianpolis on Saturday, the track featured a flurry of activity with 21 cars completing their qualifying attempts for the legendary Indycar race. The main adversary was a crosswind in turn two that affected nearly everyone that ran, and a brief rain shower interrupting Oriol Servia's first attempt. After 2:30 ET, though, there were no more qualifying attempts until the final half hour of the day.

Townsend Bell.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

Dreyer and Reinbold Racing's Townsend Bell led the pack, but only just, with an average speed of 222.539 and a time of 2:41.7693. Bell's time was a microscopic six one-thousandths of a second quicker than that of Graham Rahal, an incredible mark considering it encompassed a four-lap and ten- mile run.

"I didn't realize it was that close to Graham," Bell said afterwards. "We just nipped him. He had a big first lap then slowed down a lot. We had a decent first lap then slowed down a little. We knew we wanted a consistent four-lap run."

"It was actually a pretty good run," Rahal offered after his four laps. "It was a bit tough, because my first lap was solid at 223.6 (mph), but the laps after that I could just feel (the wind) every time I went through turn two. I couldn't get the car to turn, so I had to lift every time. It was a pretty big lift, too, and it costs you a lot of time."

Bell starts 12th, outside of row four, with Rahal inside row five leading Darren Manning and Bruno Junqueira. Justin Wilson was next up ahead of Buddy Rice and Davey Hamilton; these seven drivers were the only ones today to run a four-lap average above 222 mph.

On row seven, Rahal Letterman teammates Alex Lloyd and Ryan Hunter-Reay start next to each other and ahead of John Andretti, a frustrated 21st after posting the day's fastest lap during the morning practice at 224.027 mph.

"We had a really quick car, and we just got caught out a little bit on the wind and probably just need to make a couple of changes to the car and try it again," Andretti noted. "I am disappointed I know we have a quicker car, and I went out there and we had a little bit of a struggle with the wind, but that is just the way it is."

A weight was lifted off the shoulders of owner/driver Sarah Fisher who lines up 22nd, qualifying despite the financial struggles arising after her proposed sponsors failing to come through. Fisher, Will Power, and Jeff Simmons make up row eight.

Graham Rahal.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

"It's not as fast as we wanted it to be, but we'll take it," a visibly relieved Fisher remarked. "It's nice to know that we don't have to work on those on-the-edge setups anymore. We've just been putting our heads down and plowing forward."

Row nine, all at a comfortable if not overly secure 220 mph average, features Oriol Servia, E.J. Viso and Milka Duno. Servia failed to qualify here in 2002 and it seemed as if the racing gods were conspiring against him yet again today as he was nearing completion of his first attempt.

"I'm actually not that pleased with my run," Servia said. "I go out there in qualifying, very little downforce, and on my third lap it starts raining. Well, that's not good, but then to make it worse, I have to be the first car out with the track still a little wet because nobody had gone out, right? But that's the way it goes. I'm glad it was only four laps, and just glad to be in the show."

Less confident with their times and speeds, all at 219 mph or less, were the remaining two rows: Mario Moraes, Conquest teammates Enrique Bernoldi and Jaime Camara, Roger Yasukawa, 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, and Marty Roth.

Bernoldi hinted he would talk to his engineers about whether to make another attempt, which he didn't, while the other five were all but certain their first runs would not be their last. Roth qualified only minutes before the 6:00 gun at a far from safe 215.506 average, and will sleep tonight knowing he is in the same place as last year at this time: on the bubble. His time was nearly two seconds and two mph slower than 32nd- placed Lazier.

Of the four drivers who did not make an attempt today, most notable was A.J. Foyt IV who had mechanical woes on his newly-sponsored Eli Lilly Vision Racing car. The other three, Phil Giebler, Mario Dominguez and Max Papis, all crashed during the day and ruined their only cars, leaving much work for their crew members overnight. They stand on the precipice of disaster if they don't get in the 33-car field tomorrow.

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Series INDYCAR