Veteran savvy triumphed over youthful inexperience on this year's Bump Day at Indianapolis. The star of the day was 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Lazier, one of only two drivers in the field to have raced here prior to the IndyCar split. The final 35 minutes of qualifying provided a mix of spectacular and heartbreaking moments.
Lazier was originally bumped from the field with a 217.939 ran yesterday, only his second day on track. But in the waning moments of qualifying, he dug deep after his crew had made setup changes to provide for the necessary speed. When 218.620 was the target, and after waving off a prior attempt where he had only hit the 217 range, Lazier found two mph with an average run of 219.015.
"It was a wicked track today, with no grip at all," an exasperated but relieved Lazier said afterwards. "After being flat out at 217, we made some quick calculations of what to change -- that's experience for you. That (run) was pure engineering; I could only find one-half mph. It was a wicked day, and certainly not ideal conditions for qualifying."
Though Lazier provided the drama, and ignited a raucous cheer from the fans sitting behind pit lane, he wasn't fastest on the day. Not long after the noon hour, A.J. Foyt IV performed the inevitable and qualified for this year's edition of the '500. His average of 219.184 was quickest today but it wasn't a great day after he blew an engine, crashed, and suffered a burn to the back of his neck.
The Texan bumped Canadian owner/driver Marty Roth's 215.506 run set yesterday. However after getting up to speed today, Roth got back in with an average of 218.965, bumping Lazier at that point. By the end of the day, Roth was sweating bullets being on the bubble for the second straight year.
At 4:20 ET, Mario Dominguez made an unsuccessful attempt with an average of 217.775. There were no more qualifications for an hour but then things heated up. Lazier's first attempt of the day fell short and he waved off. Dominguez redeemed himself for the moment, compiling a 218.620 average to put himself on the bubble. He never left his car and waited in agony for what would happen.
Dominguez bumped Roger Yasukawa, and the veteran second-week driver (his third year in a row performing this duty) wasn't able to edge his way back in. Max Papis's team figured discretion was the better part of valor on this day, with not enough speed to get in and not making an attempt at all. Considering his crew spent the better part of the evening repairing his car, perhaps a wise decision.
Lazier's heroic run bumped Dominguez, sending his Pacific Coast Motorsports effort into a frenzy returning to the tech line. Yasukawa tried again, unsuccessfully, to get back in. Dominguez was able to get out for one final effort a few minutes before the 6:00 gun.
He produced a 219.780 mph first lap, staggering for the conditions, and looked to have the necessary speed to get back in bump out Roth, now slowest as the only driver in the 218-mph range. Out of turn one, all the work done by his team to repair the car from yesterday's accident was undone in an instant. Dominguez crashed, and the hopes of both his team and a nation following his progress were dashed.
"I feel terrible for me, for my sponsors, for the team," Dominguez remarked. "The only thing that makes me feel good is that we tried until the end. At the end, we just trimmed the car out, and the car didn't take that downforce, and I just lost it."
"It looked like the wind direction shifted," Yasukawa said. "I thought we were going to be able to do 219.2's, 3's, no problem. It's very disappointing, but I must congratulate Buddy Lazier on being able to make the show."