BOAT'S BACK ON TRACK WITH FIRST POLE OF SEASON Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 Streaks to 25th Consecutive IRL Pole, Powers 20 Fastest Qualifiers for Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 HAMPTON, Ga. - After setting a Pep Boys Indy Racing...
BOAT'S BACK ON TRACK WITH FIRST POLE OF SEASON
Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 Streaks to 25th Consecutive IRL Pole, Powers 20 Fastest Qualifiers for Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500
HAMPTON, Ga. - After setting a Pep Boys Indy Racing League record with six poles last season, Billy Boat had been conspicuously absent from the top spot in the first five races in 1999. Boat regained his pacesetting form tonight in qualifying at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Saturday's Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 presented by MCI WorldCom. Boat put A.J. Foyt's Harrah's Oldsmobile Dallara on the pole with a 215.251 mph lap around the high-banked 1.5-mile oval. Boat also put Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 on the pole for the 25th consecutive race on this sultry summer evening.
The IRL Indy cars returned to Atlanta Motor Speedway with a new 10,000 rpm rev limit in effect, a 500-rpm reduction since last year's inaugural event when Boat set the absolute track record at 224.145 mph. "At the last two races we had the gear too low and were on the rev limiter in qualifying," Boat explained. "This time our competitors were on the rev limiter early, and that's what gave us the advantage. The other guys left a little bit on the table. Tonight we made the right decisions."
Greg Ray, polesitter and race winner at the preceding event at Pikes Peak International Raceway, will start Team Menard's Glidden Oldsmobile Dallara on the outside of the front row after a 214.848 mph qualifying effort. Sam Schmidt was the third fastest qualifier in Treadway Racing's Sprint PCS Oldsmobile G-Force at 214.737 mph, and Mark Dismore is fourth on the grid in Kelley Racing's MCI WorldCom Oldsmobile Dallara at 214.669 mph. Points leader Scott Goodyear will start from the fifth spot after qualifying Pennzoil Panther Racing's Oldsmobile G-Force at 214.516 mph. Boat's teammate Kenny Brack, winner of last year's Atlanta race, qualified a disappointing 14th.
"I guarantee you that Kenny won't be 14th for very many laps!" declared car owner A.J. Foyt. "We figured out the speed we needed to run and calculated the gearing. We changed gear ratios four times today, but didn't have the right setup for Kenny's car. Billy turned 9,950 rpm all the way around the track - you couldn't hit it any closer. We use a two-speed gearbox for qualifying, where the other guys use 6-speeds. We've only got one gear to get going and a second gear to qualify with. If we miss the gear, we miss it bad."
Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 maintained its perfect pole qualifying record in IRL competition. Twenty-six of the 27 starters for the 208-lap, 320-mile race will use Oldsmobile engines. Eddie Cheever, the only Infiniti driver in the field, qualified 21st at 210.674 mph, more than 4.5 mph off Boat's pole-winning pace. The starting field is the closest in IRL history, with less than seven tenths of a second separating the top 25 qualifiers.
"To run in the lead group you'll have to run flat out," Boat predicted. "If you can't do that, you're going to fall out of the pack. We've struggled this year, and that's because of the competitiveness of the series. Everyone else has taken two steps forward, and maybe we've only taken one. As far as engines go, everybody has caught up. The engines are very equal. Roush does a great job with our Oldsmobile motors, but there are two or three other engine builders who also do a fantastic job. I think we have a competitive engine, but I don't think we have an advantage."
Ray was the first driver on the track when the qualifying session began as the air temperature hit 89 degrees and the track temperature was 114 degrees. "That was the fastest lap we ran all weekend long," said the elated Ray after his qualifying run put him on the front row for the fifth time in 1999. "We don't have the fastest car here, but we have a good race setup and I love these mile-and-a-half tracks. They're a lot of fun to race on, and you can really be aggressive."
Sam Schmidt had consistently topped the speed charts during practice, but had to settle for a starting spot on the second row. "That's all the car we had tonight, and we couldn't get any more out of it," said Schmidt, runner-up at Pikes Peak and father of a newborn son. "We thought we had a shot at the pole, but we had to beat Greg and Billy. We need to find a little more straight-line speed, but we've got a great race car. We're looking to continue our podium streak."
The Kobalt Mechanics Tools 500 will start at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday night, July 17. The race will be televised live on Fox Sports Net and broadcast on the Indy Racing Radio Network.
KOBALT MECHANICS TOOLS 500 TOP FIVE QUALIFIERS
Driver Entrant Engine Speed 1. Bill Boat A.J. Foyt Ent. Oldsmobile 215.241 mph 2. Greg Ray Team Menard Oldsmobile 214.848 3. Sam Schmidt Treadway Racing Oldsmobile 214.737 4. Mark Dismore Kelley Racing Oldsmobile 214.669 5. Scott Goodyear Panther Racing Oldsmobile 214.516