Johnny Unser Qualifies for 1998 Indy 500 Johnny Unser will start in his 3rd Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, after surviving a qualification weekend which proved to be both exciting and nerve-wracking for he and the Hemelgarn Racing team. After ...
Johnny Unser Qualifies for 1998 Indy 500
Johnny Unser will start in his 3rd Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, after surviving a qualification weekend which proved to be both exciting and nerve-wracking for he and the Hemelgarn Racing team.
After limited running time in the #9 Delta Faucet/Homier Tools car during last week's practice sessions, Johnny was able to bring the car up to speed fairly quickly during Saturday's morning practice, and things looked promising for qualifications on Saturday afternoon. On his first attempt, taken in the heat of the day, the car handled flawlessly, turning in a 3 lap average of over 217 mph. Unfortunately, the qualification takes place over 4 laps, and due to a miscalculation the car ran out of fuel in the middle of the 4th lap, voiding the qualification attempt. A second attempt later that afternoon did not prove to be as successful, but still placed Johnny into the field with a 4 lap average of 216.316 mph.
Sunday brought a day of waiting for Johnny, as the 33 car field began to fill up and cars began to be "bumped". With one of the slowest qualification times in the field, Johnny was in danger of being bumped from the field at any time prior to the 6 pm end of qualifications. At 5:35, with 25 minutes remaining, he was "on the bubble" or the slowest car remaining in the field. Qualification attempts by several drivers, including veterans Lynn St. James and Eliseo Salazar proved to be unsuccessful, and when the gun sounded at 6 o'clock, Johnny remained in the field.
"I have never seen my watch move as slowly as it did during those 25 minutes", said Johnny on Sunday evening, "and I hope that I never have to go through that kind of situation again. We made the race, though, and I think that we have a good solid car for race day. It's a long race, but I think that this year we have a good chance of being there at the end of the day, and being a strong contender for a good finish."
Johnny's cousin Robby Unser also qualified for this year's race as a rookie and as the 6th Unser to compete in the Indy 500. He is the teammate to veteran owner-driver Eddie Cheever and is sponsored by ADT. "Having Robby here is great, " said Johnny, "We have raced together for many years, and he brings a lot of racing experience with him to this track. We get a lot of feedback from each other, and it has helped both of us a great deal during practice & qualifying. We're both looking forward to a great race."
Both Robby and Johnny are involved in various charity and sponsorship events during this week before the race, but they will take to the track again on Thursday, for the traditional Carburetion Day, and the last time that the cars will be allowed on the track prior to the race. We will have another report following that session, as well as a race preview and wrap-up later in the weekend.