IRL: Indy 500: Opening practice comments

Sharp leads opening day at 227 at Indy Mcgehee becomes first driver to test Safer barrier at Speedway INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 5, 2002 -- Scott Sharp showed the speed that helped him win the MBNA Pole for the 2001 Indianapolis 500 by leading...

Sharp leads opening day at 227 at Indy Mcgehee becomes first driver to test Safer barrier at Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 5, 2002 -- Scott Sharp showed the speed that helped him win the MBNA Pole for the 2001 Indianapolis 500 by leading the opening day of practice for the 86th Indianapolis 500 with a lap of 39.5481 seconds, 227.571 mph on May 5 in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Sharp's speed was more than 1.5 mph faster than his four-lap average of 226.037 that delivered him the MBNA Pole last year at Indy.

"Coming in here for me was more of a concern of picking up where we left off with the testing, and making sure the team's running on all cylinders, which it obviously is," Sharp said. "And it's great having Al (Unser Jr.) right there with me. We're working very well -- everybody on the team, engineers and drivers. It's pleasing, but there's still so much time."

Defending race champion Helio Castroneves was second at 39.5764, 227.408 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. Sharp's teammate, two-time winner Al Unser Jr., was third at 39.6677, 226.885 in the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

"We're trying just to start with a base setup," Castroneves said. "We're going to have a whole week until qualifying, a whole month until the race so we want to make sure that the car, the base setup is right there. It's not just out to lunch."

1999 Indianapolis 500 Bank One Rookie of the Year Robby McGehee became the first driver to hit the new SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he hit the outside retaining wall hard in Turn 3 at 5:36 p.m. (EDT). McGehee spun entering Turn 3 of the 2.5-mile oval, hit the SAFER barrier with the rear of the the No. 10 Cahill Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone and then continued into the barrier with the right side of the car before coming to rest on the grass strip between the track and the warm-up lane between Turns 3 and 4. The car suffered heavy damage to the rear and right side.

McGehee climbed from the car complaining of pain in his left leg and was transported to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for X-rays and evaluation.

"I turned in, and it broke loose," McGehee said. "I guess I'm the first driver to test the new soft-wall system, which is a distinction I'd rather not have. I can tell you it's not soft. I hit hard.

"But I can also assure you that I'm very glad it was there. I think the angle that I hit made it a lot worse than it would have been otherwise. I have a cut on one leg, and we're just going for more X-rays, but I think I'm fine."

Bruno Junqueira was fourth fastest today at 39.6767, 226.833 in the No. 33 Target Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone. 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. was fifth at 39.7572, 226.374 in the No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Cheever's backup car also was fast, as his best lap in that machine was 39.7736, 226.281.

In total, seven drivers and eight cars were faster than Sharp's four-lap average pole speed from last year.

1998 Indianapolis 500 pole winner Billy Boat won the traditional race to be the first driver on the track when practice opened at 2:21 p.m. (EDT) under the green flag waved by Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson.

Thirty drivers in 39 cars combined to turn 1,006 laps today at the Speedway. Practice resumes at noon (EDT) Monday.

Pole Day is Saturday, May 11, with second-day qualifying May 12 and Bump Day Sunday, May 19. The 86th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for noon (EDT) Sunday, May 26.

-irl/ims-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Helio Castroneves , Bruno Junqueira , Chip Ganassi
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing