INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 10, 2000 -- Billy Boat said there's nothing in life that he'll ever attempt that takes more focus and more daring than making a qualifying run for the pole in the Indianapolis 500. Boat won the PPG...
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 10, 2000 -- Billy Boat said there's nothing in life that he'll ever attempt that takes more focus and more daring than making a qualifying run for the pole in the Indianapolis 500.
Boat won the PPG Pole in 1998 while driving for four-time Indianapolis 500 champion A.J. Foyt. He'll try to capture a second pole on May 20, driving for Team Pelfrey, which he joined in January.
"Qualifying at Indy probably is the most intense four laps you'll ever run in a race car," Boat said.
Boat has the distinction of being one of two drivers participating in this year's race to have won a pole at Indianapolis. Arie Luyendyk, who took the pole in both 1997 and 1999, has retired and will work in the ABC broadcast booth instead of in the seat of a car. Tony Stewart, who started from that coveted spot in 1996, now is driving in NASCAR Winston Cup.
Al Unser Jr. returns to the Speedway after an absence of four years. He won the pole and the race in his most recent start at the Speedway, in 1994.
"There's a thousand things running through your mind all at one time," Boat said about the pressure-packed four-lap, 10-mile run for speed that earns a driver the coveted inside front row starting spot on Race Day. "There's so much on the line, so much at stake.
"To go fast there, you put your car right on the edge. The closer you can put it to the edge, the faster you're going to go. And you know at all times, you have to be right on the edge to get the most out of your car. And it's not one lap but four, and it's like you're holding your breath for four laps.
"I know when I qualified in '98, we went into Turn 1 and caught a big gust of wind. The back end got out and went toward the wall, but you can't ever let your foot off the throttle. The challenging part is no matter what happens, you've got to keep in it."
Boat, a 34-year-old Phoenix native, noted that it's easy to get behind during practice at Indianapolis and fail to qualify. This happened to the vaunted Roger Penske team of two-time winners Unser and Emerson Fittipaldi in 1995.
In 1998, Boat hit the wall twice in practice, but bounced back under Foyt's encouragement to find the speed on Pole Day to drive faster than anyone else. He turned a 224.453-mph lap on the first time around and followed with laps of 223.725, 223.625 and 222.102 for an average of 223.503. That was more than 2 mph quicker than Greg Ray, next fastest.
Boat won six poles in 1998 but only one last season. He earned the third starting spot in the 1999 Indianapolis 500 and finished a career-best third, in his third Indy start. At season's end, Boat left the Foyt team after nearly three full seasons. He considered starting a team but instead signed with Team Pelfrey.
"It's just a little bit different atmosphere," Boat said of Team Pelfrey.
"When you drive for a four-time Indy winner, it's kind of a double-edged sword. It's great because you get a lot of attention, you get a lot of focus plus you get a lot of scrutiny. It's expected when you have a team like that.
"When things are going great, it's fantastic. When you start to have lesser performances, it can be tough."
But Boat took that experience and has made it work with a low-budget team. Boat points out that Team Pelfrey is more experienced than it appears. Team manager Gilbert Lage and crew chief Tim Whiting have been a part of the Indy Racing League and the Indy Racing Northern Light Series since its inception in 1996.
"It's been great," he said. "Maybe a little bit different focus, focusing on consistency and trying to be there at the end of this race, changing our strategy to focus on that.
"We've got kind of a lesser-known team, but we have a bunch of experienced people."
That seasoned crew is a key component of Boat's blueprint for victory this month at Indianapolis. Other ingredients are clean first lap, a healthy dose of luck, a mechanically sound race car, good pit stops and race strategy and good chassis handling that will allow him to be fast in the closing laps.
Boat identified Team Menard (drivers Greg Ray and Robby Gordon), Kelley Racing (Mark Dismore, Scott Sharp) and A.J. Foyt Enterprises (Jeff Ward, Eliseo Salazar), Galles ECR Racing (Al Unser Jr.) and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing (Juan Montoya, Jimmy Vasser) as leading candidates for victory, helped by their larger budgets and driver skill.
But Boat also knows the field is wide open enough for him to find a spot in Victory Lane.
"There are 15 or 20 teams with the potential of winning the race," Boat said. "I think we're one of them.
"I think winning Indy would be the ultimate in anybody's life. It makes a career."