Indianapolis, IN, May 23 2002 - Thirty three cars took to the bricks today in the final practice for Sunday's 86th running of the Indianapolis 500. Today's practice focused on race setup, and pleasant sunny weather made the track a little slick.
Indianapolis, IN, May 23 2002 - Thirty three cars took to the bricks today in the final practice for Sunday's 86th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Today's practice focused on race setup, and pleasant sunny weather made the track a little slick. Speeds were off from this month's impressive qualifying times. The fastest lap of today, 225.752 mph set by Tony Kanaan, was almost a full mile per hour slower than Billy Boat's bubble speed of 226.589 mph and almost five miles per hour slower than Tony's own second row qualifying speed of 230.253 mph.
"We tried to run in some traffic to see how the car was working," Tony said. "We got in 19 laps, and the car is pretty comfortable. We dialed some push into the car to see how it would work for the race, and it felt comfortable. Yeah, we're happy with that."
Tony, who is a rookie here, has come to appreciate the 500 this month. "I always knew Indianapolis," he said, "but I never felt the heat, like the whole month being here. Bump day, I remember coming in in the morning for the qualifying day, and I said, 'Man, something happened here, I think they closed the gates or something. Why all this traffic? It's all backed up here, and it's just qualifying.' And then I realized it's Indianapolis. A few years ago I remember talking to Al Unser Jr. and Michael, and they always said 'You don't know what Indianapolis really is. You have no idea. You have to be there to feel it.' And now I come to understand completely how they feel about it. Now I've got Indianapolis sickness, so I want to come back here every year."
Reigning Indy Racing champion Sam Hornish Jr. was second fastest at 225.279 mph. "Today was the first time we've run the car since pole day," Sam said, "so we took it out this morning and made sure all the things they did to the car were the way they were supposed to be. We went out and did a couple more laps and tried to keep everything to a minimum this morning. We made sure the car worked in traffic and handled the way it should, and it did. We're really excited about the race. We've got what we think is a fast race car, but nobody really shows their hand until race day.
"I look forward to the Indianapolis 500 all year long. After the race I had last year, I've really been looking forward to it."
Texan Greg Ray, who likes to go fast, was third quick at 224.975 mph, but was not entirely pleased with the day. "The final practice went OK," he said. "We went out, and we were a bit lighter on downforce than we wanted. The car was quick with a heavy load of fuel, but it's not a car I want to race. We added more downforce, and we have a much more stable chassis now. We're still scratching our heads because the week prior to Pole Day and the week after we've had a lot of different setups and never put our finger on why we were missing the speed."
Referring to his eleventh row starting position, his worst ever here, Greg is not looking forward to an easy race day. "It will be very difficult starting that far back. It's an extremely competitive field with a lot of great drivers, a lot of great teams, and the parity of speed is quite close. It's difficult to pass somebody with that you're two or three miles an hour faster than, much less passing someone you've been racing lap after lap."
Al Unser Jr. and Michael Andretti, the two men who explained "Indianapolis sickness" to Tony Kanaan, had satisfying days.
Al put in 25 laps, getting his best speed of 223.601 mph on his next to last lap. "I feel real good," he said. "We did that (speed) on our own. The Corteco/Bryant Special's running real good, and the team's doing a great job. Today's not really the day to show any of your cards. I'm real happy with it. We'll feel good about it."
Michael was sixth fastest today, at 224.532 mph. "The car was really good this morning," he said afterward. "Although the track was a little slippery, I think we have a very comfortable race car for Sunday. We tried to get the miles low on the engine, so we didn't do much running this morning. I don't think our (ninth row) starting position is a big concern for us. The biggest thing about Indy is getting in the field. Once you are in the race, it's 500 miles, and a lot can happen in 500 miles."
Pole sitter Bruno Junqueira had an uneventful day. "We just went out and made a few full-tank runs, and the car was really good. We made a few small adjustments, and I'm getting excited about the race on Sunday. It is an advantage starting from the pole because there won't be any traffic in front of me. Hopefully, there won't be any traffic in front of me for the whole race."
Last year's 500 winner Helio Castroneves had a trouble-plagued day, but the team used the time to solve their problems. "Unfortunately, things didn't work out as well as we would have liked," Helio said. "When we first came out this morning, the engine speed was low at idle, so we went back to the garage to fix it. On our second time on the track, there was an issue with the oil sensor, so we had to once again go back to the garage to work on the problem. In our final run, we weren't happy with the balance of the car, so we didn't really get the chance for any solid practice time during the session. That's why Carburetion Day is so important. It gave us the chance to fix these last minute problems. Hopefully, we've worked everything out, and things will run smoothly on Sunday. That's the day that counts."
Carburetion day brought news of a new engine for next year's Indy Racing series and the 500. American Honda Motor Company announced plans to enter the Indy Racing League. Honda Performance Development has contracted with Ilmor Engineering, Inc., to provide engines. HPD and Ilmor will work together as technical partners to design, develop and produce the engine. "This is an exciting all-new chapter in Honda's racing history and will give Honda the opportunity to compete in the challenging IRL racing series and the famous Indianapolis 500 race, while at the same time expand HPD's abilities as a true racing development company," said Robert Clarke, general manager of HPD.
Honda's announcement came on the heels of yesterday's progress report by Toyota Racing Development on their 2003 IRL engine. TRD's Lee White reported that the engine has been running simulated actual race laps on the dyno since February. Beginning in July, they will run the engine in a Dallara at tracks hosting IRL races. "Look to see us at those racetracks on the Monday and Tuesday after the actual race event. We will be using scuffed tires from that race on a rubbered-up racetrack and we will be expecting to go as fast as the pole car," White said. Kelley Racing and Penske racing will perform the on-track testing.
This afternoon's pit-stop competition, won by Marlboro Team Penske (#3, Helio Castroneves), was the final on-track activity until Sunday's race. Gates will open at 5 am Sunday, and the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for 11:00 am EST. The race will be televised live on ABC-TV, with the pre-race coverage beginning at 11:00 am EDT.