IRL: Indy500: Valiant effort for McCormack Motorsports

INDIANAPOLIS, May 20 - "The McCormack Motorsports/Team Calcium team made a valiant effort Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but fell short of its goal of putting the McCormack Motorsports/Team Calcium G-Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone ...

INDIANAPOLIS, May 20 - "The McCormack Motorsports/Team Calcium team made a valiant effort Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but fell short of its goal of putting the McCormack Motorsports/Team Calcium G-Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone #30 into the field for the 85th annual Indianapolis 500 next Sunday.

The competition was so stiff that if the car would have been able to go just .2 of a second faster per lap, Jimmy Kite of Stockbridge, Ga., would have been in the starting field and would have earned his fourth starter's ring.

Kite's speed Sunday would have been good enough for the middle of row four in last year's starting lineup if he would have qualified on the first day in 2000.

This year the field was so tight that the spread between the polesitter and the slowest qualifier over the four-lap average was only 3.28 seconds.

A practice session started the program on "Bump Day," and shortly after taking to the track for practice around 10 a.m. a plume of smoke developed at the back of the #30.

"We had a fitting crack on us," Kite explained at the time. "We'll take it back and change the fitting. We'll try to come back and practice. If not, the car is good. We'll be ready to qualify."

The track opened for qualifications at noon and the team was ready and confident. According to Firestone engineers on site, at that time the air temperature was 71 degrees, with southeast winds at 8 mph and relative humidity of 52 percent. The skies were partly cloudy and the track temperature was 126 degrees.

Kite was the second driver to attempt to qualify on Sunday. That time he turned three laps at average speeds of 219.321 mph, 219.621 mph and 219.791 mph before team owner Dennis McCormack waved the first of the three allotted attempts off.

The team waited for the track temperature to cool down before getting in line for its second attempt, which it made at 5:12 p.m. That time Kite turned two laps at 219.147 mph and 220.153 mph before he was waved off.

The crew put sticker Firestones on the car and got back in the qualifying line. Less than a half-hour later Kite made his third and final attempt, running extremely consistent laps of 221.085 mph, 221.115 mph, 221.108 mph and 220.884 mph for a four-lap average of 221.048 mph. Although it was the fastest the car has run here all month, unfortunately it was not fast enough to make the field. There were 68 qualification attempts this year (one more than last year), with 45 completed attempts (seven more than last year) for one of the coveted 33 starting positions.

Naturally Kite was very disappointed. "The guys busted their tails. It was the best-handling car I've ever had here. I don't know why we didn't make it," he said while sitting on pit road as the gun sounded to end the day's activities.

Engineer Jeff Braun said the weather was an important factor in how the day developed.

"We chased the weather all day," he explained. "At one stage in the middle of the afternoon the track temperature was 130 degrees and we were struggling. We waited for the track to cool down, and when it was down to 103 degrees we made no changes and went 221.5 mph. We thought we were ready to qualify. However, all we could run on that attempt was 218. We went back, changed the front wing by a very small amount, put on new tires, ran our four laps and did 221.0 It just wasn't good enough. The way it worked out, if we would have run .2 of a second a lap faster, we would have made the race. That's how competitive this is."

Billy Boat was the slowest qualifier at an average of 221.528 mph for the four laps, less than half a mile per hour faster for the 10-mile distance than Kite ran.

Dennis McCormack was matter of fact. "We failed, but we'll be back next year," he said. "Everybody on the team worked very hard. We all gave it our best shot: the whole team; driver, everybody."

Team manager Michael McCormack also showed excellent leadership qualities when he noted, "You can't keep a good group down, and the McCormack Motorsports/Team Calcium team is a very good group."

-MM-

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Series INDYCAR