INDIANAPOLIS, May 18, 2003 - Qualifying for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 concluded today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as four Chevy drivers joined the grid on the traditional Bump Day: Vitor Meira, Billy Boat, Robby McGehee and Jimmy Kite.
Meira completed four laps around the 2.5-mile speedway at an average speed of 227.158 mph in Team Menard's Johns Manville Chevrolet Dallara. He was the top Chevy qualifier today, turning the second fastest speed among the nine Bump Day qualifiers and the fastest overall qualifying speed by a Chevy driver. Under the Indy 500's qualifying procedures, today's qualifiers will be gridded behind last Sunday's qualifiers regardless of speed.
"I was the last one to qualify - last but not least!" joked Meira, who had only limited practice during the preceding week. "It was a good run, I was flat all the time. We could have taken some more wing off the car to get more speed but we're not working on qualifying any more - just racing."
Combined with the six Chevrolets that qualified on May 11, Chevy will power a total of 10 entries in the 33-car field for the 500-mile classic. Toyota has 14 qualifiers and Honda nine.
"Several Chevrolet teams successfully completed 600-mile on-track durability tests this week, and we intend to race with Chevy Indy V8 engines that have the same power level than was used in qualifying," said Joe Negri. "We have concentrated on enhancing reliability and improving fuel economy. The Indianapolis 500 is a test of endurance, teamwork, pit stop strategy, tire management and driving skill as well as outright speed. We are optimistic that we have a produced an engine package with the performance and reliability that will allow Chevy drivers and teams to be competitive in the race."
Chevy dealer Gary Pedigo of Indianapolis, a co-owner of the Pennzoil Panther Racing team, saw two Chevrolet-powered entries carrying his dealership's name join the Indy 500 starting field as Billy Boat and Robby McGehee made successful qualifying runs in Pedigo-sponsored Dallaras. The Panther team repaired one car after Boat's close encounter with the pit wall last week and prepared a second car for McGehee.
"That's what this place is about: ups and downs," Pedigo observed. "We saw the downs last week and the ups today, so it makes it all worthwhile. It's exciting to see two cars out here with Pedigo Chevrolet on the sidepods and Chevy engines under the air scoops."
Boat sailed to a four-lap average of 225.598 mph to put his Pedigo/Panther Racing Dallara 29th on the starting grid.
"The car was fantastic, very consistent," said Boat, the 1998 Indy 500 polewinner. "We didn't run that quick in the morning practice, but we made a few changes and the Panther Pedigo team did a great job. It feels good to be solid in the field. That's exactly the speed we thought we needed to get qualified safely, and we hit it.
"We worked a lot on our raceday setup last week, so we're ready to go," Boat added. "Chevrolet's been working hard on getting us some more horsepower. We put in a brand-new engine and it ran flawlessly. It just feels good to be in the show."
Robby McGehee turned his first laps in an Indy car since last September and then promptly qualified the second Pedigo/Panther Racing Chevy with a 224.493-mph average.
"I would have preferred a couple of days to practice, but this is my best opportunity to do well in the Indy 500," said McGehee, the 1999 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. "Panther Racing has been a championship team for the last two years, so I'm excited to get to drive one of their cars in the race. The crew and the engineers have been fabulous."
Jimmy Kite put PDM Racing's Chevrolet Dallara in the field with a 224.195-mph four-lap average. Kite was first in the qualifying line and turned two laps above 225 mph, but called off his first attempt when the car ran out of fuel. After the car was refueled, Kite completed his 10-mile qualifying run to earn a starting spot in the Indy 500 for the fourth time in his career.
"I forgot how good this feels!" exclaimed the short-track racing specialist. "The last time I got to do this was in 2000. Last year we came close and got rained on. It's a great feeling to know I'm going to be in the starting field for the Indy 500. The guys at PDM Racing took a big chance. We're definitely proud to be one of the Chevrolets in the field this year.
"I could feel the difference when the heat came up between the first and second runs," Kite explained. "I could feel the difference especially in the short chute because the wind picked up and I was losing speed compared to my first run. The speed on the third lap scared me, so on the fourth lap I did everything I could to use every square inch of track. Man, I can't wait for next Sunday!"
A final two-hour practice session will be held on Carburetion Day, May 22. The Indianapolis 500 will begin at noon EDT (11:00 a.m. local time) on Sunday, May 25. The 200-lap, 500-mile race will be televised live on ABC and broadcast live on the Indy Racing Radio Network.