IRL: 26 and counting at Indy

IRL: 26 and counting at Indy

Four more drivers put pedals to carbon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, setting their four-lap averages and placing their cars in the field for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Alex Barron is ready to qualify after Saturday's ...

Four more drivers put pedals to carbon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, setting their four-lap averages and placing their cars in the field for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Alex Barron is ready to qualify after Saturday's wreck.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Three of the four were drivers who had crashed while attempting qualification laps on MBNA Pole Day Saturday; Tora Takagi was the fourth driver to make an attempt.

In contrast to the gloom of Saturday's weather, the forecasters were pretty much spot-on in their assessments of climactic changes for central Indiana today. When practice began at 10 this morning the temperature was 59 degrees and skies were clearing. There were no yellows during the practice session, a portent of good things to come.

As they did on Saturday, the Indy Racing League gave qualifying drivers the ability to take three warm-up laps prior to taking the green flag for four laps of qualifying around the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval.

First out of the box just after 1PM was Alex Barron, qualifying his #51T Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. Barron completed all four tours safely with an average speed of 218.836mph, which turned out to be good for the outside of row #8 in 24th place

Californian Barron "was pretty confident coming back in here this morning. We went out this morning a little bit conservative on the setup but we had a lot of grip and a little bit of an unbalance. We fixed that," he revealed, "re-geared it and put it in line. This team as a whole has come a long way since the last year. We're doing our best to get the best results we can, and that's what you need to do to be a top team."

With no one else in line at that point, the track re-opened for practice and the Marlboro Team Penske duo of Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. ran some tag team laps in their T cars, working together to see how difficult it would be to work in traffic.

Several drivers have remarked, over the past week of practice and qualifying that it will be difficult to pass with the aero rules currently in use. The Penske duo's reverie stopped when Hornish depleted his supply of on-board methanol, stopping between Turns 3 and 4 in the deceleration lane.

Bryan Herta.
Photo by Jim Haines - IRL.
At 1:49PM Bryan Herta rolled the #7T XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda to the line - after being cleared to drive by IRL and IMS medical director Dr. Henry Bock this morning - and pounded out four average laps of 219.871mph to set in the middle of row #8 in 23rd.

After his big smack with the Turn 1 SAFER barrier yesterday, "I knew that it would take a couple of laps this morning to get the feelings back and put yesterday out of my mind." Admitting he had some fear upon returning to the track after Saturday's shunt, Herta "knew I just needed a good, comfortable car to get my confidence back up and that's what the team gave me. I feel like it's 100% behind me now."

Once Barron and Herta had completed their qualifying laps, it was time for drivers to practice again. Because he'll be in Monterrey, Mexico next weekend working Race #2 in the Champ Car World Series, Bruno Junqueira needed plenty of practice time today, and he got it. Putting in 137 laps of practice in the #36T PacifiCare Panoz G Force/Honda while the crew nutted-and-bolted his primary car,

Junqueira's speed in practice was a respectable 217.839mph and he ended up fourth for the day. He'll be lining up fourth on the grid May 30th and is, of course, hoping not to finish any lower than first. "We worked on the race setup today since we won't be here next week. And we won't run much on Carburetion Day because we don't want to put too many miles on the engine." Bruno wanted to run some in traffic but found himself alone on the circuit a bit too often for his taste.

Tora Takagi.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
As Happy Hour set in and the cloud cover returned, it was time for two more qualifying attempts. Tora Takagi, who waved off two attempts Saturday brought his #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota to the line around 5:30PM and rolled off four laps averaging 214.364mph for 26th on the grid. "It was very, very slippery and we tried to change the settings. The balance is bad," Takagi declared, "and there is too much push in the car."

It was quiet on the historic oval until three minutes were left in the day. Then Felipe Giaffone began his qualification attempt and hit four laps averaging 216.259mph in the primary #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy after his team spent much of the night and day replacing broken pieces from yesterday's accident. He'll roll off from 25th spot on the grid.

It was a tough day for the Brazilian, who had a leaky gearbox from the start of the day. "It made the day go really fast," he said. "We knew what went wrong yesterday," Giaffone revealed. "We had really light downforce in the car so right now we have plenty of downforce. We just want to qualify and the car was all right but not perfect."

In today's practice, teammates Bryan Herta (220.073mph) and Tony Kanaan (219.746mph) logged the fastest speeds, while Barron was third at 218.952mph, Junqueira fourth, Castroneves fifth (217.660mph) and Hornish Jr. sixth at 217.423mph. Only 15 cars were on the track today and, once again, Marty Roth was slowest in his #25 Roth Racing Dallara/Toyota. It's assumed he'll attempt to qualify that car on Bump Day, but certainly needs to do better than the fast speed of 212.548mph he hit on is 93rd and final lap.

Felipe Giaffone waits for the signal to qualify.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
With 26 spots filled in the 33-car field for the 88th Indianapolis 500, the drama next Sunday has much to do with whether another seven cars and drivers can be found to complete the 11 rows of three.

We're expecting to see Roth make his attempt and, of course, Beck Motorsports' PJ Jones will be out in the CURB Records/Agajanian Dallara/Chevy as announced earlier today. But questions still remain: can Greg Ray find sufficient backing to do more than present his #13 Panoz G Force/Honda for technical inspection?

Will Morris Nunn take on one of the Lazier brothers for his #21 Dallara/Toyota? Who will drive the #23 Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Chevrolet that's been entered in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing? Will Roger Penske lease his #66 Panoz G Force/Toyota to Sam Schmidt (or another team) in order to complete the field?

A number of drivers continued to prowl the paddock in search of rides. In addition to Buddy and Jaques Lazier, Memo Gidley, Max Papis and Jeff Simmons, ageless Roberto Moreno came to the Speedway today to offer his services as a driver this month. "In an ideal world, I would get in the Fernandez Racing 5T car, but I don't think it's possible for them to get it together. Yes, I'm looking around, and yes, I would like to race here," Moreno said.

The qualification order for next Sunday, May 23rd has been announced now that the weekend is complete. There are 12 possible vehicles in the line and they are (in order of their qualifying draw): #11T for Tony Kanaan, #66T with a TBA driver, #98 for PJ Jones, #27T for Dario Franchitti, #21 with TBA driver, #25 Marty Roth, #23 TBA, #13 Greg Ray, #18 TBA (and no one's seen or heard from PDM Racing all week!), #14T for AJ Foyt IV and, finally, #66 with a TBA driver.

So there could be plenty of interesting scenarios next Sunday with 12 cars in the qualifying line. Could there by bumping on Bump Day? It could happen!

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Helio Castroneves , Memo Gidley , Jaques Lazier  , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Sam Schmidt , Marty Roth , Morris Nunn , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske