Indy 500: Series day five report

DRAMA BUILDS FOR INDIANAPOLIS 500 QUALIFYING AS RAIN WASHES OUT SECOND DAY OF PRACTICE INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, May 8, 2008 - For the first time since 2006, rain forced the cancellation of a second consecutive day of on-track activity at the ...

DRAMA BUILDS FOR INDIANAPOLIS 500 QUALIFYING AS RAIN WASHES OUT SECOND DAY OF PRACTICE

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, May 8, 2008 - For the first time since 2006, rain forced the cancellation of a second consecutive day of on-track activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The lack of track time adds to the drama and tension as teams prepare for qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

A key moment in the month-long pursuit to become the Indianapolis 500 champion comes May 10 when drivers compete for the top 11 starting positions for the 92nd running of the 500-Mile Race, including the PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award presented by AutoZone and it's $100,000 prize.

But, for the 11 driverss who don't qualify on Pole Day, there's still hope. Three times in the last 10 years, the winner has come from outside the top 11 spots.

Eddie Cheever Jr. drove to Victory Lane from the 17th starting position in 1998. Helio Castroneves won from 13th in 2002, and Dan Wheldon started 16th when he won in 2005.

"Your primary goal at this race is to win the race," said Wheldon, who led 30 laps in 2005. "You can get very caught up in qualifying, and it's a very proud achievement for everyone on the team to be on pole for the race. You have to make a very disciplined approach to that and understand that if your car is not necessarily a pole contender, you can waste a lot of tires trying to do that."

The bigger key, according to Castroneves, Cheever and Wheldon, is to have a good race car.

"Not only was I back there (in 17th)," said Cheever, who is part of the ABC broadcast team this May. "But in the first corner, I got hit from behind and almost spun."

Despite the early setback, Cheever was able to get to the front and take his first lead on Lap 68.

"It was just one of those races where apart from a really bad first corner everything went right," Cheever said. "We didn't have to change the car at all. Owen Snyder had done a really good job on the setup. We had one pit stop problem where I thought I was told to go, but I wasn't, and we almost ripped the fuel tank out of the car. But the car was just good.

"I always thought it was wise to take the lead at the last possible moment and save your car, but I found myself in front. The pace was good, the car was running well, and everything just kind of fell my way."

Wheldon climbed into the top 10 by Lap 28 and into the top five on Lap 55. However, he didn't take the lead until Lap 150.

"I had a great race car and was able to get to the front very, very quickly," said Wheldon, who also led laps in 2004 and 2006. "That's how it works around here. In the race, you don't necessarily have to have the fastest race car to get to the front. You need a car that handles good in traffic, because you're not going to avoid traffic around this place. And you need something that is consistent. The track changes, the temperature changes, so it's got to be consistent in all conditions."

Castroneves cut things the closest. He didn't take the lead in the 2002 Indianapolis 500 until Lap 177, leading the final 24 laps on his way to becoming a two-time winner at Indy.

Even though they've proved it's possible to win from the middle of the 33-car field, the drivers would prefer to start up front.

"It's always good (to qualify the first weekend), because you don't want to spend that next week thinking about qualifying - you want to think about racing," Castroneves said. "You want to make sure you prepare yourself for the race the next week. Whatever happens after that, you need to be able to adapt to those circumstances."

Said Cheever: "I think the front row is definitely the place to be when you're starting the 500. Other than the fact that it's a lot of fun to be on the front row leading up to the race, there's less possibilities of getting caught up in somebody else's accidents. Every row that you go back into the field, the multiple of you having a possible race-ending accident goes up dramatically."

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Roth Racing has hired IndyCar Series veteran Larry Curry as chief engineer. Curry comes to Roth Racing from Vision Racing, where he was the team manager.

As chief engineer, Curry will not only oversee the setups for the Nos. 24 and 25 race cars driven by Jay Howard and Marty Roth, respectively, but also will set about restructuring the engineering department.

MARTY ROTH (Roth Racing, Owner/Driver): "Having a person of Larry's experience join our organization, especially as the month of May and the most important race of the season is upon is, should be a huge boost to us all. Although we realize that changing team personnel at the season's fifth race may put us slightly behind the 8-ball as we head into the first weekend of qualifying at Indy, we feel that the knowledge and leadership that Larry brings to the team will only make us better as we continue to develop our program and strive to become more competitive at each race. Our team has made huge strides this year. We've added a second car with Jay Howard, who passed his rookie orientation on Sunday, and at the last race in Kansas we posted the best-ever qualifying effort in team history. We fully expect that as the season progr esses we will continue to develop and run further toward the front."

LARRY CURRY: "I had a great three-and-a-half years at Vision Racing, and I want to thank Tony George for his support over the years. I now look forward to a long tenure with Roth Racing and to the challenges of helping to build the team into a competitive, first-class organization."

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Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 champion, will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 9 for the first time since 2004.

De Ferran, who served as a racing commentator for ABC in 2004, recently formed de Ferran Motorsports after serving as sporting director for Honda Formula One.

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Team Moore Racing announced on May 8 that rookie Pablo Donoso will join the Firestone Indy Lights team beginning with the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 23 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Donoso will be teammate to veteran driver Jeff Simmons. Donoso, 23, will take his first laps with TMR at a test session May 9 at The Milwaukee Mile. The Chilean has run the first four races of the season and sits 19th in points with a best finish of 12th at Kansas Speedway in April.

MARK MOORE (President, Team Moore Racing): "Everyone at TMR is excited to have Pablo join our team. It's been our goal to grow to a two-car team, and now we have the opportunity with two extremely talented drivers behind the wheel."

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Indiana University men's basketball coach Tom Crean visited with Panther Racing co-owner John Barnes today in Gasoline Alley. Crean is married to the sister of Panther co-owner Jim Harbaugh, a former quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts.

TOM CREAN (Men's Basketball Head Coach, Indiana University): "There is a lot of excitement to be here and to see John again. We've talked, but it's the first time I have seen him since I have been the Indiana coach. We've known each other a long time. Our family, the Harbaughs and the Creans, have incredible respect for him. It's a lifelong friendship and to know now that we are going to have a lot more time to be together, and knowing that he is going to be a part of the scene with us at Indiana, means a lot."

(About seeing new faces in Bloomington): "It's just like John said, we have to learn how to do things differently and that it all comes together, while making sure everybody is doing it for the good of what racing is and for how much people enjoy it. It's the same at Indiana. There is an uphill battle, and I think everyone know s that. My kids haven't even moved to Bloomington yet, and they know that. You have to have a family atmosphere that transcends everything. I think that is where the former players come in more than anything else. Recruiting is obviously incredibly important. Establish who are team is going to be, that is important. I'm telling you, having our former players back, feeling good about this, and interacting and feeling like they our a part of it, that's really huge. That's been one of the great thrills about being here. I know it's been just a little over a month, but one of the great things has been getting to know these guys, getting them on the phone, seeing them in person. I'm looking for a long-standing relationship with them because they have had such a long-standing relationship with IU."

(About his first trip to IMS): "This is the first time I have been to the Speedway. What is amazing to me is how immaculate this place is . I was over in the Penske garage, and it's spotless. ! You come in here and see everything so green, I mean, I know it's raining, but you can tell this place is well kept. You don't know how huge this place is until you come here. It's impressive."

JOHN BARNES (Co-owner, Panther Racing): "There is no place I would rather be than the Indianapolis 500 and here with Tom and all the guys. He is going to do such great things for IU, and we are so excited."

(About unification of open-wheel racing): "I always say two things happen in the spring in Indiana: The grass turns from brown to green, and there are talks about reunification. I didn't put much credence in it, but Tony (George) put a lot of work into this. There are a lot of good teams coming in, and we have had good teams here in the past. It's going to be an uphill battle for those guys to learn how to run on ovals. It's all one happy family, and we don't care who they bring in, we'll race against them."

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Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels will visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday morning to help kick off this year's Vision Racing Wellness Tour.

Daniels will be on hand at 10:45 a.m. at MotoGP Garage 33, adjacent to the Pagoda Plaza, to assist Robert Huffstodt, president and CEO of Polymer Technology Systems, Inc., makers of the CardioChek home cholesterol test system, Vision Racing driver Ed Carpenter and team owner Laura George in launching the Wellness Tour. Since 2005, Governor Daniels has focused on improving the health of Hoosiers through his INShape Indiana statewide fitness initiative.

The Vision Racing Wellness Tour will allow race fans to receive free cholesterol and glucose screenings at IMS, courtesy of Vision Racing, CardioChek® home cholesterol test system and Kroger. Screenings will be conducted in MotoGP Garage 33 and will be available from 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. Friday, May 9; Saturday, May 10; Saturday, May 17; Wednesday, May 21 and Friday, May 23, and from 8 a.m.-noon Sunday, May 25.

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Sarah Fisher Racing announced that Milwaukee-based Direct Supply, Inc., the nation's leading supplier of equipment and e-commerce solutions to long-term healthcare communities, will sponsor the No. 67 Honda-powered Dallara driven by IndyCar Series veteran Sarah Fisher in the Indianapolis 500.

Direct Supply, which returns as a sponsor at the Indianapolis 500 for the third time, is new to SFR and Fisher, 27, of Commercial Point, Ohio. Fisher, who became the first female to start from the pole position in an IndyCar Series race, mirrors Direct Supply's corporate values in commitment, success and drive.

SARAH FISHER (No. 67 Team ResQ/Gravity Entertainment): "I'm honored to have Direct Supply's support of our team. Working with Bob Hillis and the entire group at Direct Supply has been great thus far, and we look forward to helping grow their business."

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The 500 Festival staged a remote Mini-Marathon at Balad Air Base in Iraq. More than 800 runners participated, with another 100 serving as volunteers. The 500 Festival provided the participants with bibs, medals, start and finish line banners, training gear and Gatorade.

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INDYCAR SERIES END-OF-DAY QUOTES:

BUDDY RICE (No. 15 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing): (About the weather): "I don't think it would be Indy if you didn't have weather. I think that's what makes this place so unique - you never know what you're going to get. This track - its layout, the rules, the atmosphere - everything is unique. It wouldn't be the month of May if we didn't have some down time due to weather. The whole thing about this place is speed. If you can find a couple of tenths of a mile per hour by sitting there and looking at the car and cleaning it up and doing what you can, you're going to do that. I don't think any down time is necessarily good because I think all of us up here would just as soon be out there running right now and having to work late with the teams to make our cars faster. But at the same time, it's just part of the month. This is a long, long month, but we're all excited for the weekend and ready to get going."

(About how the team has run so far): "We rolled off the trailer on Tuesday in the top 10, and basically we were there for most of the time until we stopped running for a bit in the middle of the heat. We went back and made some changes and came back in the afternoon and jumped back up in there. For us to be rolling off the trailer the way we are, we're in pretty good shape now. It benefits the teams and the personnel and the people who have been here. But I think it's definitely different. It's interesting to have 33 cars starting the month versus 20 or 22 like we've had in the past. To try to get clean laps and try to run open, it's just not going to happen. We'll have to see what happens with qualifying. It's going to be fast, and the weather's going to dictate how fast we run."

JAIME CAMARA (No. 34 Sangari): "It's really too bad that it rained again today. Yesterday didn't bother me too much, but I was really looking forward to getting back into the car today to continue our preparation for qualifying this weekend. It sets us back on track time, but it's the same for everybody. I think the weather should be better tomorrow, so hopefully we can get out there."

ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (No. 36 Sangari Conquest Racing): "Obviously we need the track time to continue our development of the car, and this rain just isn't helping. It makes for long days just sitting around waiting. I'm not used to this. I met with my engineer and then played some computer chess."

(Did you win?) "Of course."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 02 McDonald's Racing Team): "It's definitely a challenge coming here and not getting to run as much as we'd like before qualifying. I think this couple of days has given us a chance to catch up on some of the work that we're struggling to fit in just because of the tight schedule. The team is back there working hard, making everything as close to perfect as we can get it before we go out there. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to get out there tomorrow, but if not, we'll go after it on Saturday. Right now, the guys are back working on the McDonald's car, and they're just fine-tuning everything, setting everything up again, checking all the wing measurements, checking all the suspension components, the dampers we've changed slightly throughout the week, so everybody is flat out. The engineers are studying the data to make sure that what we think we've learned is as right as we can get it before we can go back out on track again and validate that. The teams that are new here are going to be a step behind, but we've used these two days to catch up on some of the work that we're struggling to fit in. It's not as bad as if we were sitting around, twiddling our thumbs. We've used the time wisely. You spend the time polishing the car and cleaning up the edges. Anything you can do to get that tenth of a mile an hour which is going to make the difference on Saturday and Sunday."

(About trimming the car out): "We started that on Tuesday. Sunday was pretty much, not full downforce, but higher downforce to get comfortable with the track and the car and get experience. Throughout Monday and Tuesday, we started trimming it back and trimming it back, and I think now we're at a similar level to everyone else now. I think the next step for us is going to be to try to get the car a little more drivable and a little more consistent where we can keep it going like that during the race with turbule! nt air."

(About racing heroes): "I don't remember Jim Clark's racing, but I've seen a little bit of video footage. Obviously he was a great driver and regarded as one of the best. Actually, my two heroes were Nigel Mansell in Formula 1 when he came across here and more recently Dario (Franchitti). I first got to know Dario when I first started racing cars at 16 years old. I followed his career, and he was somebody that I admired. I like the way he drove, and I like the way he raced. To get to become, not really friends, but we know each other enough to speak to each other on occasion, and I know his brother very well. He's definitely one of my idols, and he's obviously a great driver and someone that I've admired for a long time."

(About racing at Indy with past karting rivals): "Myself and Dan (Wheldon) used to race karts together when we were 8 years old. Darren Manning was actually my teammate in karts when I was 11, 12 years old, and I've known them for ma ny years. I competed with Darren in Formula 3000, and we both went on. He was a test driver in Formula 1, and I did a couple of tests. I think I did one more year and then came across. It's just how it all worked out. Dan decided early on that he wanted to come across here and race. He started out, I think, in Formula 2000 over here. It's just coincidence that we all ended up here, and I think (E.J. Viso) was saying earlier, I don't think we all planned for it to work out and race over here, but the merger happened, which I think we're all pretty happy about, and everybody is getting the chance to come here and race and all racing against each other again."

WILL POWER (No. 8 Aussie Vineyard-Team Australia): "It was good that KVRT Aussie Vineyards-Team Australia got a lot of miles in during the first three days. It really helped us because the last two days have been raining, and we haven't had any track time, which is so important to a new team, especially one like us that has two rookie drivers. I think the rain has helped us a little bit, because the established teams have not run as much as we have here, and when we get out on Friday the track is going to be green and have less grip. At this point, we need all the advantage we can get. The down time has also allowed the crew to make some changes to the car that we have been discussing. Overall, there are some advantages to the wet weather and some disadvantages."

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology): "We have mixed feelings about the rain we had yesterday and today. It has been good and bad at the same time. The disadvantage is that we need to get as many miles as we can here at Indy so we can learn as much as possible about the KV Racing Technology car before qualifying. But at the same time, we went through a lot of tires our first two days of practice, and the down time will help us manage the tires we have left. We are looking forward to tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be good, and we have a few things we want to try which should give us the speed we need to achieve our goal, which is to qualify the first weekend."

E.J. VISO (No. 33 PDVSA HVM Racing): "Regarding the team, we are a small team working really hard. I consider this a puzzle. Each day we are finding a new piece, and at the end it's all about how many pieces we have found for the whole puzzle. It's about putting them all together for qualifying. There are all new rules. Everything is new for me here in the States, especially in this series. All the rules are completely different, so I am learning them and choosing the limit of the rules to find that 100 percent advantage of what we can get for this event."

(About the atmosphere of Indianapolis, including running the Mini-Marathon): "Everything is different here for me. I just loved running the Mini, and it was a great opportunity to be my first time inside the track. I was running with so many people who are the people that are going to watch me race. It was cool, and I'm getting used to the place. My team has raced here, as well. It's been a great atmosphere, and I love it so far. I'm looking forward to starting the action."

(About if fellow Venezuelan Milka Duno's efforts in the Indy 500 had any influence on him): "Everything happened in a strange way in the past two months. I was almost signed for the championship in Champ Car, and IndyCar was not in my plans. I'm sure that Justin (Wilson) and other drivers who are rookies here probably did not have it in their plans. Everything happened so quick. Milka (Duno) has been here for a while in the States. I came here by myself, and she is not a part of my plans or anything like that."

(About the rain delays): "In the first two or three testing days, we were saving tires because tires are one of the things we were going to run out of quicker. Now we have more tires since we were going to test yesterday and today, and we cannot do it anymore. Not testing is very productive because we work and ! check an d study all the data. This time is also important for us. For the new teams, we are in a weaker position that we need to work a bit harder. We're trying to trim the cars as much as possible and do whatever we can do to catch these guys."

(About superstitions): "On a normal day for testing or racing, yeah, I have some lucky charms. My last helmet is painted with lucky charms from all around the world. I always have a few in my pocket, some small lucky charm things, like coins and papers from my family and some different things. They keep changing from year to year."

(About idols growing up): "From Venezuela, there are not many drivers. I think the only known one was Johnny Cecotto. He is still the youngest world champion in motorbikes at the age of 16. Being a world champion in bikes, he then went to cars and was really good. He got into a big accident at Brands Hatch (at the British Grand Prix) back in 1983. His teammate was Ayrton Senna, and at that point he was up in the points, so he was a really good driver. He's one of the people I really admire, and he started from zero, no help, nothing, and just got up there. From the European guys, one of my idols is Alain Prost. He's one of those drivers that every lap they run, they are always to the limit in everything. That's what racing drivers are about - being in the limit. We need to be there, and he is a great driver."

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A total of 35 cars are currently at the Speedway and have passed technical inspection. Thirty-four drivers have been on the track to date and have turned 2,701 laps this month. A total of 96 IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights drivers have passed physicals at the Clarian Emergency Medical Center.

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FRIDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):
8 a.m. Public Gates Open
Noon-6 p.m. IndyCar Series practice

6:15 p.m. PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying Draw
(Indy Fan Zone stage at the south end of Legends Row Suites in front of MotoGP garage 8)

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The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at noon (EDT) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 23 at Indianapolis. It will be telecast at 4 p.m. (EDT) on May 23 on ESPN2.

-credit: irl

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