IRL: Bump Day: The Indy 500 field is set

IRL: Bump Day: The Indy 500 field is set

INDIANAPOLIS, May 18, 2003 - The field for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race filled to capacity today, as nine cars and drivers made 10-mile qualifying runs at the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Alex...

INDIANAPOLIS, May 18, 2003 - The field for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race filled to capacity today, as nine cars and drivers made 10-mile qualifying runs at the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

Alex Barron's car.
Photo by Earl Ma.
On a mostly cloudy but dry afternoon, with temperatures in the mid sixties and track temperatures around the 90-degree mark, the nine drivers still trying to make the field for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing were permitted 45 minutes of practice prior to the five and a half hours allocated for Bump Day qualifying. They practiced close to the order in which they would be gridded after each performed the time-trial dance.

Jimmy Kite was first out to qualify at 12:33 in the afternoon, just three minutes after the session began. After losing power as he began his third tour, Kite came back into the pits so the PDM mechanics could check out the #18 Dallara/Chevrolet. "In turn one on my third lap the car sputtered a little bit so I shut it off, brought it in and let the guys look at it."

Shigeaki Hattori was next up in the #5 Epson Dallara/Toyota, pulling four laps at an average of 224.589mph. "My average [speed] is getting better and better and next week I think we'll be okay," Hattori said. "Our car is obviously not set up for qualifying. All four laps, my car was pretty consistent, and that's good for the race."

Billy Boat took to the track at 12:46pm, looking to find speed in the #98 Pedigo Chevrolet/Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. He found an average of 225.598mph. "Anytime you hit like we did last weekend, you probably need to clear your head. You're better off to wait and get prepared to make sure the driver and car are both ready, and come back like we did." Boat acknowledged, "We could have changed gear and gained a mile an hour because we were pretty hard on the rev limiter."

Fastest of the unqualified few since he arrived at the Brickyard on Wednesday, Jimmy Vasser took his #19 Argent Mortgage Dallara/Honda to a four lap average of 226.873mph for Rahal/Letterman Racing. "I've pretty much been doing full-tank race setup since I arrived," Vasser said. "The Honda power is, I think, superior to the other stuff I've seen in race trim on the track and [that makes me] energized and encouraged for Race Day."

Jimmy Vasser.
Photo by Earl Ma.
Vasser admitted he "still gets butterflies" qualifying for the Indy 500. "You still have [that] because you still have to qualify to get in the race and bad things can happen. You can blow engines, things can break and you can end up in the fence, so you have anticipation." Fortunately for Vasser, who seeks his fourth 500-mile superspeedway victory, none of the above occurred for him - or anyone else on the race track - today.

Kite came back for a second try shortly after 1pm and made it stick this time, albeit at a 224.195mph average, nearly one mile per hour slower than his first two laps of the initial, aborted run. "It seems like every year, here I am on Bump Day doing something. I prepared myself.

"I was nice and calm this morning. I'm ready. Hey, it's Bump Day." The Georgia native was caught out by rain last May and failed to qualify with PDM Racing. "We've been talking all year, myself and PDM, that we knew we had some unfinished business. We had one goal starting at the month of May and that was to make up for last year."

Airton Dare was disappointed to qualify the #5T - which will be renumbered as #41 - to a four-lap average of 223.609mph at 1:08pm. "There was a miscommunication with me and the team when I went out. We ran 225.3mph this morning and I thought we could pick up a mile an hour, but we slowed down three instead of picking up one.

Dare wanted the A.J. Foyt Racing team to waive off this try in his Panoz G Force/Toyota, "But I didn't get an answer back from the team so I kept it in the gas and we completed the other laps. We are in the field," he acknowledged, "but it's really frustrating to be that slow."

Wearing Arie Luyendyk's driving suit - which fit fairly well despite being a bit large around the middle - Alex Barron stepped to the line at 1:44pm in the #20 Meijer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota and ripped off the fastest four-lap average of the day at 227.274mph. This morning Barron "realized the track was a lot different that two days ago."

Barron's squad had been working on race setup since Thursday morning, "so this morning we went through a little bit of a glitch. We had to regroup, do one more run, pull out of the line to verify that the change [made] was going to work. We put it back with a good, solid, conservative setup and went out and put four consistent laps together," Barron said. The Firestone rubber from the Infiniti Pro Series caused him to be loose on exit of Indy's four distinct corners during morning practice, but "this car has just gone quicker and quicker and quicker. It never felt any different for me because I knew I had a fast car and I knew I could get in solid."

Richie Hearn.
Photo by Earl Ma.
Richie Hearn is one of two drivers who have had no practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before today. Driving the #99 Contour Hardening Special Panoz G Force/Toyota leased from Team Penske, Hearn found himself teamed with Sam Schmidt - for whom he finished sixth in 2002 - and parts of the same Marlboro Team Penske crew that has helped Helio Castroneves achieve two Indy 500 wins and this year's MBNA Pole position.

Hearn ticked off a four-lap average of 225.863mph at 1:50pm. "The plan was to give me a car that I can get up to speed with, which they did. There are three or four miles (per hour) easily left in that car. It's not even close to being trimmed out," he exulted. "This deal started Thursday afternoon and finished up Friday night. You kind of hold your breath that it was going to work out. Contour Hardening and Curb Records really stepped up when I needed the money to fill in the gaps."

So then there were 31. And two more cars were readying to take their turn at this altar of speed. Vitor Meira still had to qualify, as did Robby McGehee. Others took to the track for practice, including Robby Gordon, back from Charlotte and NASCAR's The Winston last night took the #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda out.

Gil de Ferran, who had hoped to practice Saturday and join his family in Ft. Lauderdale, FL for some time off also practiced in his #6 Panoz G Force/Toyota for some practice laps. Sarah Fisher ran the #24T car assigned to teammate Robbie Buhl for insurance, should a third car materialize before the final checkered flag at 6pm.

At 3:23pm, McGehee took the #44 Pedigo Chevrolet Dallara/Chevrolet out for his qualifying laps. The St. Louis native had driven up for this "real last minute deal." He was sitting home on Thursday when he got the call. "How quick can you be here," McGehee was asked? It took him just about 2 hours and 30 minutes to drive to Indianapolis and he is "so excited to be here."

Yesterday's rain didn't help McGehee, of course but, "Panther Racing got me so comfortable in the car so quickly. He hustled to a four-lap average of 224.493mph in the same car Billy Boat crashed last week. "The team completely rebuilt the car and once I knew I could lean on it, I was very comfortable in the car. I know the quality of the crew Sam [Hornish Jr.] works with week in and week out, but I never thought I'd have a chance to get a ride that great!"

Robby McGehee.
Photo by Earl Ma.

About 40 minutes later, it was Meira's turn to test the Brickyard track. A rookie at this track, Meira substituted for the injured Jaques Lazier in four races last year driving the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet. While he knew that Lazier, upon return would be John Menard's #1 driver, the Brazilian held out hope he could qualify for his first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race today. "While I was outside the car, I got to see everybody's mistakes and all the things they were doing right," Meira said. This worked well for him.

Driving the #22 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet at 4:04pm, Meira became the fastest Chevrolet qualifier of the month with a four-lap average of 227.158mph. "I was not in the car a long time, but enough. I have tried to not be nervous and stay calm this month, but this will be my biggest race, so it feels pretty good," was Meira's understatement.

And so the gun went off at 6pm to end Bump Day with nary a bump - nor a grind of the walls. The engines will be silent until the final tune-up on Thursday, May 22nd, Carburetion Day. Thirty-three cars and drivers will line up May 25th for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Indy 500 starting lineup

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Robby McGehee , Sarah Fisher , Robbie Buhl , Shigeaki Hattori , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Gil de Ferran , Jimmy Vasser , Jimmy Kite , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Sam Schmidt , A.J. Foyt , Jaques Lazier , Mo Nunn , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske