IRL: Indy 500: Qualifying postscript

Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Postscript Field as deep as ever; Reliability at an all-time high INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, May 19, 2003 -- The numbers don't lie: The 87th Indianapolis 500 features a deep, talented field. For starters, there is a...

Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Postscript
Field as deep as ever; Reliability at an all-time high

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, May 19, 2003 -- The numbers don't lie: The 87th Indianapolis 500 features a deep, talented field.

For starters, there is a driver who has won at least one IRL IndyCar Series race in each of the traditional 11 rows of three. All told, drivers in the 87th Indianapolis 500 have accounted for 154 Indy Racing League or CART wins, 12 IRL or CART championships and six Indianapolis 500 wins. Teams that have entered cars for the "500" have tallied 19 Indianapolis 500 victories, 27 IRL or CART championships and countless IRL, CART, USAC, NASCAR, Formula One and road-racing victories.

The stats are not lost on Brian Barnhart, senior vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League.

"It's the ninth-closest field in history and the third-fastest field in history," Barnhart said. "And the quality -- the race wins, the championships, the Indianapolis 500 wins that are represented -- makes a great race for next Sunday. We've got as much quality as we've ever seen."

The 87th Indianapolis 500 starts at noon (EDT) Sunday, May 25 and will be televised live on ABC.

The field average is 227.125 mph, the third-fastest field in history. The fastest field in history was last year when the field averaged 228.648, and the second-fastest field was in 1996 at 227.807. This year's field is the ninth closest by time in Indianapolis 500 history. The field is separated by just 5.6386 seconds.

Despite long-time veterans and "500" winners Arie Luyendyk and Eddie Cheever Jr. deciding not to race this year, taking 30 Indianapolis 500 starts with them, drivers in the field have a combined 115 previous starts in the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., driver of the No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, has the most experience with 15 previous starts.

"It's going to be extremely hard to win this race because everyone who is in the race is very equal," Unser said. "The quality of the teams and drivers is the best it's been in years."

It's not just the drivers and officials that know about the quality of the field; it's team owners, as well.

Kim Green, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing, has been around Indy-style racing since 1983. AGR is fielding cars for Michael Andretti, driver of the No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone; Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone; Robby Gordon, driver of the No. 27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone; and rookie Dan Wheldon, driver of the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

"It's very deep, for sure," Green said. "I think probably half the field has got a legitimate shot at winning the race this weekend. I think it's going to be a very, very tough race on Sunday. The field overall is quite a fast field -- third fastest in history. It's going to all be about who has got their car right for the conditions."

Green was a member of Team Green in 1995, when Jacques Villeneuve earned that team a victory in "500," and knows that mistakes must be kept to a minimum this year due to the depth of the field.

"With this field perhaps being much deeper than what we've seen at the Indy 500 in the past couple years, you're going to have to have a very good day to win the race," Green said. "You won't be able to make many mistakes and find yourself at the front of the field at the end of the race. It is going to be all about drivers not making mistakes, pit crews making great pit stops and good strategy."

Kenny Brack, the 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1998 IndyCar Series champion and driver of the No. 15 Rahal/Letterman/Miller Lite/Pioneer Dallara/Honda/Firestone, knows that earning his second Indianapolis 500 victory won't be easy.

"When I was in the IndyCar Series in late 1990s, there were good drivers like Tony Stewart, but maybe only six or seven drivers could really win," Brack said. "Now there are 16 to 18 drivers that are capable for winning in this race. The number of challengers is as high as I have seen here.

"The competition is so tough this year with the types of teams here. There are good drivers, crews and teams overall. The competition level has jumped so much in this series from the time I was here before. I think it's the most competitive open-wheel series in the world right now."

***

Rookie crop impressive: The rookie crop competing for the Bank One Rookie of the Year Award is especially strong, as nine talented rookies will take to the track for 87th edition of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, has one win in CART and won the IndyCar Series season-opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tora Takagi, driver of the No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, and Shinji Nakano, driver of the No. 54 Beard Papa's Dallara/Honda/Firestone, each have Formula One experience, while A.J. Foyt IV, 18, driver of the No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, won the 2002 IRL Infiniti Pro Series championship.

Dan Wheldon, driver of the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone, has competed in three IndyCar Series events and finished in the top 10 twice, while Tony Renna, driver of the No. 32 Cure Autism Now/HomeMed Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, has competed in six IndyCar Series events and finished in the top 10 four times.

Buddy Rice, driver of the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, started second and finished second in his IndyCar Series debut in 2002 at Michigan and scored two top-five finishes in five races last season. Vitor Meira, driver of the No. 22 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, won the pole for the season-ending Chevy 500 in 2002 at Texas and scored three top-10 finishes in four races last season.

Roger Yasukawa, driver of the No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified 11th for the "500" and leads the IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year points standings.

Kenny Brack, who won in 1999 at Indy and has four total IndyCar Series wins and five CART wins, is impressed with the new talent.

"Look at the rookies at the top of the speed charts here at Indy," Brack said. "They may be rookies here, but they are damn good drivers in other series that come here for the first time. Look at guys Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Bobby Allison and Nigel Mansell. When they came here, they were champions in other series, but they were rookies here.

"Now, we know they weren't true rookies, and that still holds true this year."

***

Impressive reliability: One uncommon sight so far during May has been smoke trailing from IndyCar Series cars during practice and qualifying. Through 13 days of on-track activity, there was amazingly only one engine failure, according to Brian Barnhart, senior vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League.

"It's been outstanding," Barnhart said. "I think we're in the neighborhood of 38,000 practice miles, and the cars, and engines, are running like clockwork. We're not blowing up things. It's a great testament to Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet as well as to the chassis manufacturers, Panoz G Force and Dallara.

"Our new combination that we've debuted has been very successful. We have the potential as we come toward next Sunday, that if a guy doesn't run into something or each other, the cars aren't going to fall out of the race."

***

Name game: With Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti and A.J. Foyt IV all qualified for the 87th Indianapolis 500, it marks the first time since 1992 that an Andretti, Foyt and Unser are in the same field. Andretti will start 13th, Unser will start 17th and Foyt will start 23rd.

When Unser starts this year's "500," it will be the combined 70th start at Indianapolis for the Unser family. Jerry Unser had one start, Bobby Unser had 19, Al Unser had 27, Johnny Unser made five starts, while Robby Unser made two. Al Unser Jr. will make his 16th start.

The Unsers have a combined nine wins at Indianapolis, with four by Al, three by Bobby and two by Al Jr.

This year will mark the 41st race that the name Unser will appear on the starting lineup. The Bettenhausen name has appeared on 39 starting lineups.

-ims-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jacques Villeneuve , Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Arie Luyendyk , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Nigel Mansell , Jackie Stewart , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Tony Renna , Kim Green , Chip Ganassi , Bobby Allison , Johnny Unser , Robby Unser , Graham Hill , A.J. Foyt , Brian Barnhart , Jim Beam , Al Unser , Mo Nunn , Vitor Meira
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing