The mighty Brickyard has withstood the ravages or weather, World War and depression; but today she was brought down by a single, wobbly paver.
Practice was halted at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at approximately 5:40 PM EDT when racecar driver Mario Moraes detected something amiss as he sailed over the venerable three feet of brick that sit at the start/finish line of the 2.5-mile oval.
"Today was another very productive day for the KV Racing Technology -- Votorantim team. We worked on different race setups again today and the car felt solid. Only once did we have a problem with the rear. Unfortunately, on my last lap, I went across the start/finish line and sucked up a brick, which damaged my car and ended my day," said Moraes. "I feel bad for the crew because they are going to have to do some extra work tonight."
Within minutes IMS and Indy Racing League officials were crouched on their knees, pondering the loose brick that, like a wayward tooth, was struggling to stay in place in the vacuum created over it by the whizzing cars.
"It was kind of cool, in a way," said KV Racing Technology's Townsend Bell who was lapping the track at the time the problem was discovered, "but kind of dangerous too."
Speedway officials predicted repairs could be made in time for Saturday's next-to-last day of qualifying for the 93rd Indianapolis 500 on May 24th.
"There's four or five bricks that have come loose, the mortar has come loose on it. It's just something that's going to take too long to fix tonight (before the end of practice). We need to make sure it's right for tomorrow's qualifying," stated Brian Barnhart, IRL president of competition and racing operations. "I think that's a first for us around here. We're awfully proud of the Yard of Bricks around here, and I think that's the first time it's caused a delay in practice."
Eleven positions remain available in the 33 car field. At the top of the list of yet unqualified drivers was Bell whose best lap of 222.139 mph was faster than the slowest qualifier now in the field and good enough for third-quick on the day.
"I'm pretty happy where we are. The car's obviously quick and I'm really excited about getting it in the field tomorrow," said Bell. "It's really cool to be part of a team that's running well here. It's a great team, full of good people and great equipment. We have two other cars that already have run quick and qualified well. That makes it a lot of fun."
Teams which qualified on the first weekend of qualifying May 9th and 10th worked on race setups and tested the warm, humid conditions at the track. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing paced the six hour practice session with a fastest lap at 222.799 mph. Dixon was followed by KV Racing Technology's Moraes on a best lap at 222.530 mph.
Driver Mike Conway, injured in a hard impact with the wall in Turn 2 on Sunday, returned to the Speedway and put in 25 laps. His top speed of 219.234 mph was 26th of 31 cars to see action on Friday afternoon.
Tomas Scheckter sealed a deal to drive Dale Coyne's No. 19 entry and will attempt to qualify for his eighth consecutive start. Scheckter will be reunited with engineer Bill Pappas, with whom he worked while driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Scheckter's best finish at the 500 was a fourth place in 2003 while driving a Ganassi Panoz G Force/Toyota.
"We were working on several things in the off-season and talking to him for a while," said team owner Dale Coyne. "This kind of came together late, but we have a good second car, and Tomas knows how to get around this place, so we should be fine. Tomas and Justin (Wilson) will be a nice combination."
Scheckter turned a total 37 laps today with his best of 220.516 mph coming on his 35th tour of the track.
HVM Racing's EJ Viso is first in line to qualify when the track reopens at Noon on Saturday, followed by Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter.
Official qualifying will be proceeded by one hour of practice starting at 10:15 am.
The weather forecast for the Indianapolis area on Saturday calls for temperatures in the 70's and a forty percent chance of rain.