IRL: Drama at 16th & Georgetown

IRL: Drama at 16th & Georgetown

There is just one day remaining before the field will be set for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, a situation that prompted new liaisons and activity today at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Adrian Fernandez. Photo by...

There is just one day remaining before the field will be set for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, a situation that prompted new liaisons and activity today at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

Adrian Fernandez.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Adrian Fernandez took home another $2500 from Argent Mortgage today for having fastest lap of the 26 car and driver combinations to take practice laps around the historic Brickyard circuit.

The Mexican ace needed all of 15 laps to post his quick lap of 218.495mph in the qualified #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda. Fernandez also practiced in his spare car this afternoon. Teammate Kosuke Matsuura was second in the #55T Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda at 218.300mph on his 23rd of 76 laps.

Sam Hornish Jr. did more than half distance this afternoon in the #6T Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota and took third at 218.096 on his 24th lap of 103 total. Tony Kanaan (#11T Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda) and Dan Wheldon (#26T Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda) rounded out the top five runners today.

There were 1414 laps turned in two separate practice sessions, broken by the Menards Infiniti Pro Series race this afternoon. Among the non- qualified drivers vying to make the field of 33 for the May 30th race, Buddy Lazier was fastest in the #91 LifeFitness Dallara/Chevrolet in 16th position at 214.414mph.

After having had a tough time in the Infiniti Pro Series race, Marty Roth bounced back to set his fastest lap of the month at 213.097mph, good for 20th among all drivers practicing.

Richie Hearn.
Photo by McQueeney.
Just behind him in 21st, Richie Hearn logged his first 48 laps in the #33 Lucas Oil Products Panoz G Force/Toyota leased from Team Penske. This is the second straight year Richie has arrived late at the Speedway and worked with Sam Schmidt Motorsports on a last-minute Penske deal.

"When [Tim] Cindric offered me the car," team owner Sam Schmidt joked, "I thought to myself, 'somebody pinch me', but I wouldn't have felt it anyway." Schmidt has had his hands full all week with the priority of fielding two Menards Infiniti Pro Series cars for Futaba Freedom 100 winner Thiago Medeiros and third-place Arie Luyendyk Jr.

"This came together in an extremely short amount of time," Schmidt allowed. "We started trying to beat up those guys in January but the deal was done this past Wednesday night. My primary focus was on the IPS race and I'm amazed by this. I'm truly blessed and overwhelmed."

Lucas Oil Products, based in Corona, CA, is known for its line of additives. The company has been in operation since 1989. "Growing up in Indiana and actually racing a few times myself, I never would have dreamed I would be able to sponsor a team for the Indianapolis 500," entrepreneur Forrest Lucas declared.

A former long-haul truck driver who once owned his own fleet of trucks, Lucas began formulating problem-solving lubricants for the trade. His company has been involved in NHRA, off-road, IHBA and ATPA motorsports over the past few years, but this is his first Indianapolis 500 venture. Lucas met his driver last night. He noted that, due to the late pairing, "I got a slight discount off market price" for the sponsorship.

Richie Hearn last competed in the Indy Racing League in the final three races of the 2003 IndyCar Series season. He earned MBNA Pole for Team Menard at Chicagoland, then worked for Hemelgarn Racing at California and in the Texas finale. Hearn has started his own Star Mazda team and, despite spending 10-hour days working as a team owner, is excited to be back at the Brickyard and driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

"It feels really good to be here. I didn't want to miss Indy but I also didn't want to walk around all month. Sam called a couple of weeks ago," Hearn revealed, "and I told him I'll do it." He got the call to come to Indy Thursday morning and arrived that night.

The team went out toward the end of morning practice and shook down the car. "Within five laps I was pretty comfortable," Hearn said. "Unfortunately, I have done this a few times and know how to make a car comfortable without pushing too hard. A full month would be nice," he hinted, "but I wouldn't turn down this opportunity.

Jeff Simmons.
Photo by Dana Garrett - IRL.
Jeff Simmons logged all of 21 laps in the #12T Mo Nunn Racing Dallara/Toyota and turned 209.820mph before the checkered flags flew. Simmons' deal with Nunn was announced shortly after 3PM. "I was taking my time to build everything up," dealing with seating, pedals and the routines of racing.

"He knows this track, he's run in Foyt's [similar] car, and he had a seat already made, another plus," said Morris Nunn, team owner. "When we make a late decision like this, we have to take all those things into account. We don't want to put any pressure on him at all. If it's comfortable and he's comfortable, then we'll make a decision to see if we'll make a [qualifying] attempt."

The final non-qualified drivers to take laps this afternoon were PJ Jones and Robby McGehee. Jones, who compiled 36 laps in the #98 CURB Records Dallara/Chevy from Beck Motorsports had a best, 31st lap of 208.342mph. McGehee drove the #18 PDM Dallara/Chevy, which was actually Robby Gordon's spare car prior to today. McGehee did only five installation laps with a best of 175.934mph.

The tension is mounting for quite a few folks in the massive Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area. While there are five non-qualified drivers who took practice laps today, there are seven slots still available to complete the field of 33 cars for the May 30th classic. The big question marks concern Greg Ray, whose team spent much of the afternoon setting up their pit stall and Jaques Lazier, who could pilot a Foyt entry.

The weather could play a part in this drama as well, as thunderstorms have been forecast for tomorrow afternoon. Drama this strong would hit the Nielsen limits on television; look for plenty of pathos to play out within the confines of 16th and Georgetown Roads on May 23rd.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Buddy Lazier , Jaques Lazier  , Adrian Fernandez , Tony Kanaan , Richie Hearn , Sam Schmidt , Marty Roth , Morris Nunn , Kosuke Matsuura , Jeff Simmons , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn , Thiago Medeiros , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams Team Penske