IPS: IRL: A wet one at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, May 17, 2003 - The field for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race could be a full eleven rows of three cars each. It's shaping up that way, as two drivers were nominated to fill seats late last night. Richie Hearn...

INDIANAPOLIS, May 17, 2003 - The field for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race could be a full eleven rows of three cars each. It's shaping up that way, as two drivers were nominated to fill seats late last night.

Richie Hearn will drive a #99 Panoz G Force/Toyota, a car that two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday prior to MBNA Pole Day last week. The car is officially entered by Sam Schmidt Motorsports but, wandering through Gasoline Alley, one can see Marlboro Team Penske crewmembers working on the car - wearing plain, gray Sam Schmidt Motorsports shirts and their regular black pants.

"We ran the car last week, but setups have changed since then," said Marlboro Team Penske co-team manager Clive Howell. "There's quite a bit we have to do to get this car ready for qualifying tomorrow." He said the seat was being amended to fit Hearn, rather than Castroneves, pedals and steering wheel are getting the proper adjustments.

The #99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Contour Hardening Special will be primarily white and, for tomorrow at least, crewed significantly by Team Penske, commingling Sam Schmidt Motorsports crew as they get with the program once the Infiniti Pro Series Freedom 100 is complete.

Roger Penske declared "no intention to run a third car' after placing Helio Castroneves' #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota on Pole for his third race at the Brickyard. If there were to be a third car, Howell indicated, the Team preferred to see Alex Barron as driver, since the Californian is familiar to the Penske team and to this package.

That idea was scotched once Mo Nunn Racing took the services of Barron in relief of Arie Luyendyk, not cleared by Dr. Henry Bock to contest his 18th Indy 500 after an accident in practice May 9th resulted in both head- and backaches. Barron has been practicing in the #20 Meijer Panoz G Force/Toyota since Thursday morning, working up to a quick lap of 227.714mph yesterday.

Once Barron became unavailable and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway indicated its desire to see a full field, the choice was between veteran Italian open wheel and sports car ace Max Papis and Indy Racing League stalwart Hearn. Hearn's familiarity with the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval and his ties to Schmidt are the viable reasons to choose the Henderson, NV native.

Just a week earlier, Hearn was one of many walking the paddock and wondering what it would take to get a ride this May. "It's like I'm not on their radar, but I'm here because I think I can win this race," Hearn stated at the time. "There's absolutely nothing out there now. Nothing. I'll stick around and walk the paddock this week, but I don't know if I'll be here for Bump Day," he said. "I just need to be in a car." Hearn's best finish in three attempts is third with Della Penna Motorsports in 1996; he placed sixth last year driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

On the other end of the paddock, Panther Racing now finds itself fielding a three-car team, and has only one car firmly in the field, that being the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet of 2001-2002 Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. Billy Boat has practiced with the team this week after his own huge accident last Saturday prior to the qualifying rainout. Boat was uninjured after making contact with the pit entry pylon.

Driving the #98 Pedigo Chevrolet Dallara/Chevrolet Boat has run 351 laps and logged a quick lap of 227.322mph, set on May 8th. His spare #98T has been renumbered and renamed the #44 Pedigo Chevrolet Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet and Robby McGehee is the nominated driver. Boat's best Indy 500 finish is third in 1999, driving for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

McGehee, a St. Louis native has made three starts (and has completed them all) in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race with a best finish of fifth in 1999, while driving with Conti Racing. McGehee is being fitted for his seat and pedals in the #44 car and many amendments need to be made, as he is much taller than Boat. Phoenix, AZ resident Boat has worked the #98T through 203 laps with a best of 223.546mph.

With the extensive rain delay for the inaugural Freedom 100 Infiniti Pro Series event, the Indy cars were unable to practice this afternoon, meaning both McGehee and Hearn will take their first laps in these two new entries tomorrow morning prior to Bump Day qualifications. They join seven other drivers looking to find a way into the 87th Indy 500.

Quickest of those unqualified drivers, Jimmy Vasser has the benefit of three full practice days in the #19 Argent Mortgage Dallara/Honda fielded by Rahal/Letterman Racing. Vasser was in England and Germany fulfilling his Champ Car obligations prior to arrival at the Brickyard this week and, when questioned about the lack of Saturday practice said, "It was a little frustrating. We wanted to get qualifying setups ready for Sunday, but I think we can do that tomorrow morning."

Vitor Meira, utilizing the #2T Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet has set a quick lap of 227.918mph, posted on May 16th. Meira ran four races for Team Menard last year in relief of Jaques Lazier, injured in the Nazareth round, earning his first MBNA Pole at the Texas finale and finishing third in that race. This will be his rookie year at the Indy 500.

While still under contract to A.J. Foyt Racing, Airton Dare has spent much of this season cooling his heels and spotting for young A.J. Foyt IV. Arriving at the Speedway last week, Dare has been driving the #5T Epson Panoz G Force/Toyota and turned a quick lap yesterday of 227.175mph in preparation for Sunday's Bump Day activities. While dismayed not to have the opportunity to practice an additional day, the 2002 Kansas IndyCar Series winner was sure he could put his car solidly in the field.

Teammate Shigeaki Hattori was sidelined last weekend after having an accident in his #5 Epson Dallara/Toyota yet said today, "I'm not worried (about the lack of practice). We have practice before qualifying and we had two good tests yesterday. I'm very comfortable in my car," the Japanese veteran noted. Hattori posted a lap of 226.506mph on May 5th, but crashed the following day.

Jimmy Kite has had a tough time finding speed in the #18 PDM Dallara/Chevrolet, his best of 224.202mph coming on May 8th. Kite is looking to start his fourth Indy 500 this year; his best finish is 11th with Team Scandia in 1998. Kite's quick lap is a tad better than slowest qualifier Sarah Fisher's in the #23 Dallara/Chevrolet at 224.170mph. Fisher had hoped to take her #24T Dallara/Chevrolet in case she needed to re-qualify. Her teammate and car co-owner Robbie Buhl has practiced the machine, albeit slower than Sarah's qualifying average.

The nine as yet unqualified drivers will take practice tomorrow morning between 11:15 and noon immediately following the completion of the 40-lap Freedom 100 Infiniti Pro Series race, which was officially cancelled at 5pm CDT when rain began to fall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway once again.

When the Freedom 100 race was halted after 12 laps, polesitter Ed Carpenter was leading outside front row starter Mark Taylor, with Jeff Simmons third, Aaron Fike fourth and Cory Witherill fifth.

There had been five retirements: Matt Beardsley and Thiago Medeiros made contact on lap one; Arie Luyendyk Jr. retired with electrical problems on the ninth lap - yet may return to the race tomorrow if repairs can be made; Billy Roe's gearbox gave up and Craig Dollansky spun out on lap 11, suffering a lower back fracture.

At this moment, partly cloudy skies are predicted for Sunday, May 18th, with temperatures in the middle 70s. But this is Indianapolis, after all, and the weather is always subject to change.

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Mark Taylor , Robby McGehee , Sarah Fisher , Robbie Buhl , Shigeaki Hattori , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Cory Witherill , Helio Castroneves , Jimmy Vasser , A.J. Foyt IV , Jaques Lazier  , Jimmy Kite , Max Papis , Richie Hearn , Billy Roe , Alex Barron , Sam Schmidt , Aaron Fike , Matt Beardsley , Jeff Simmons , Craig Dollansky , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn , Thiago Medeiros , Vitor Meira , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams A.J. Foyt Enterprises , Panther Racing , Team Penske