SHARP PUTS THE TEQUILA PATRON CAR IN THE INDY 500 FIELD IN LAST GASP ATTEMPT INDIANAPOLIS, IN, Sunday, May 10, 2009: Scott Sharp has started the Indy 500 from the pole position previously, but he has never been more delighted to simply secure a...
SHARP PUTS THE TEQUILA PATRON CAR IN THE INDY 500 FIELD IN LAST GASP ATTEMPT
INDIANAPOLIS, IN, Sunday, May 10, 2009: Scott Sharp has started the Indy 500 from the pole position previously, but he has never been more delighted to simply secure a spot in the field than after today's high drama second day of qualifying.
After withdrawing his first qualifying run, then being bumped from the field by AJ Foyt IV, the Tequila Patron driver made one final attempt to secure his 14th Indianapolis 500 start - leaving the line with 23 seconds remaining in the day.
After his two previous runs had come up short, the Panther Racing crew made further changes - taking even more downforce out of the car - and the inaugural Indy Racing League co-champion held his nerve to record a four lap average of 222.162mph to qualify 20th and push EJ Viso from the field.
With only six minutes remaining, Sharp sat aboard the #16 Tequila Patron/Muscle Milk entry with four cars ahead of him in the qualifying line.
The 13-time Indy starter began to run through the extensive planning he would have to undertake to fly back and forth from his American Le Mans Series duties in Salt Lake City next weekend for Patron Highcroft Racing to return to the Speedway for a Saturday qualifying attempt.
However, after Ryan Hunter-Reay's attempt fell short, Alex Tagliani's attemp was waived off and two cars pulled out of line, Sharp hit the track with seconds remaining and 10 miles later joined his Panther Racing team-mate Dan Wheldon in the field.
When the final 11 positions on the grid are filled next Saturday, Sharp will be in Salt Lake City preparing for the fourth round of the ALMS for the factory-backed Acura LMP1 squad alongside teammate David Brabham.
The ALMS race takes place at the Miller Motorsports Park circuit on the same day at Bump Day in Indy, May 17.
Sharp - who currently leads the LMP1 division points championship with Brabham - will then return to Indianapolis for the final week of race preparations.
"I've never been more happier to be 20th! I've had some runs here in the past, but to end the day like we did was certainly very emotional and rewarding for everybody.
"One I pulled out onto the track my mind was probably the clearest its ever been. I just had to hold it down, hit my marks and see what we ended up with.
"We've had a few things go wrong which led to our crash the other day in the Tequila Patron car but I can't say enough about the Panther guys who did an amazing job in turning the car around and getting us back on track.
"Today we were chasing speed and we kept pulling wing out the car but still couldn't find the time we needed.
"We'd make some good runs in practice and show strong speed without a tow and then we'd go and do the qualifying run and couldn't get the numbers - it was very strange.
"At the last bit I really thought we were done. At the end of the day we layed the wing down some more and pulled up in the tech line.
"I saw four guys in front of me, looked at my watch and it said six minutes to go. I said to myself, 'I think we're done - its over'.
"I have to say a big thank you to the League because all of a sudden I was at the front of line. I saw them do it yesterday - if you weren't fast enough on track or weren't going to make a run, they'd pull you straight off.
"It was certainly a challenging task we are facing here to come and race against the guys in IndyCars who are driving these things all the time - especially considering we are not able to run much of the second week or any of the second weekend because I'll be back in the Patron Highcroft Racing Acura in the American Le Mans Series race in Salt Lake City next weekend.
"I'm just delighted we were able to get it done and I now can't wait for the race."