IRL: Indy 500 Pole Day

LUYENDYK TAKES POLE FOR FINAL RACE By Nathan Siebens - Hollywood couldn't have scripted the 1999 edition of Pole Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Through most of the week of practice leading up to today's qualifying ...


Hollywood couldn't have scripted the 1999 edition of Pole Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Through most of the week of practice leading up to today's qualifying session, Team Menard driver Greg Ray practically lived atop the time sheet.

On Thursday, the Texan posted the fastest lap ever for non- turbocharged IRL cars at the Brickyard, with a blistering lap of 227.192 mph in the #2T Glidden/Menards Special. Indeed, almost everybody already conceded that Ray was destined to start next Sunday's 83rd Indianapolis 500 from the inside of the front row.

Apparently, somebody forgot to tell that to Arie Luyendyk.

In qualifying for his final Indy car start, Luyendyk proved one last time why he earned the nickname "The Flying Dutchman." At 1:31 pm this afternoon, Arie took to the famed 2.5-mile oval and posted a four-lap average speed of 225.179 mph in the #5 Sprint PCS/Meijer G Force-Aurora for Treadway Racing. Luyendyk's speed was over one and a half miles an hour faster than Billy Boat's 1998 record for normally-aspirated cars at the Speedway.

However, Ray had not yet made his qualifying attempt, so Luyendyk's celebration had to be put on hold. An hour and 12 minutes later, Ray pulled onto the tarmac for his run, and his average speed after three laps would have earned him the pole position. Unfortunately for Ray, the four lap average speed is what counts. After three laps over 225 mph, Ray's fourth lap of 224.439 mph wasn't quick enough, and Luyendyk collected the third Indy pole position of his illustrious career.

"I think the thing that struck me the most for myself--I didn't wake up this morning thinking that it was going to be my last qualifying day or this is going to be my last this or that," Luyendyk said. "When I had completed the run, I was really moved by the enthusiastic crowd all around the track. And coming into the pits, all the crews were waving and clapping. It just shows this whole race track and the Indianapolis 500 is all about the fans and the people that make it happen. It's still very much a people's sport. It's a great sport.

"I will always remember this day, coming into the pits, under any set of circumstances, no matter where we qualified. And of course, it could only be topped by coming in when everybody's cheering when coming into Victory Lane."

Ray's qualifying attempt was delayed when the #2T machine that he had piloted to the week's quickest lap did not pass technical inspection. As a result, Greg had to qualify the primary #2 machine, and he came up just short. For the second consecutive year, Ray will start from the middle of the front row.

"It's my son's (Winston) birthday today," Ray said. "I wanted to give him the pole. I know the weather conditions changed. The car felt good. I was flat out. I've said all week that these cars are sensitive to weather. The sun came out for us. I drove all four laps exactly the same, and we were close. My crew chief said on the last lap, 'we need a little more here.' I said, 'that's all there is.' The team did a great job, and I feel I put in four faultless laps. It just started to go away at the end."

For last year's polesitter, Billy Boat, Pole Day 1999 appeared to be an absolute nightmare. While making is first qualifying attempt of the day, Boat crashed for the third time this week. At that point, it appeared the he would be lucky to get into the field at all today.

Luckily, Boat's Compaq-sponsored #11T Dallara-Olds was not badly damaged in the accident, and the AJ Foyt Racing crew managed to make the necessary repairs. After a few practice laps, the car was pulled into the qualifying line. Nearly five and a half hours after the crash, Boat took to the circuit and ripped off a four-lap average speed of 223.469 mph. It was good enough to put the Arizona native on the outside of the front row.

"I knew we had the speed," Boat said. "I knew we had a good race car. At the start of the run, the car was a little bit loose, so I was just trying to keep on top of the car. Laps Two and Three, the car was perfect. Right there at the end, we had sort of a push. I'm just glad I put it on the front row for the team.

"It's been a tough week, not just a tough day. I'm glad this week is over. (The crashes) got progressively easier. It takes a little bit to get back, but the guys did a great job of putting the car back this morning. We knew we had the speed, we just had to put it all together. This is a tough place. I haven't appreciated this place more than I do no. I don't think you can appreciate this place until you struggle."

Another driver who struggled this week was CART FedEx Championship Series regular Robby Gordon. Although he didn't crash, the owner/driver had a difficult time finding the necessary speed in his #23 Johns Manville/Menards, and it wasn't until yesterday that Gordon clocked a lap in excess of 220 mph.

To make matters worse, Gordon lost a motor in this morning's practice session. At 2:05 pm, Robby made a qualifying attempt in his #23T G Force-Aurora, but after two sub-220 mph laps, the attempt was waved off. Luckily for Gordon, his partner in Team Gordon is John Menard. With Ray already in the show, Menard provided Gordon with the #2T Dallara-Aurora, and he turned in a fourth best qualifying average of 223.066 mph.

"We're happy to be in the show," Gordon said. "We're very fortunate to be associated with John Menard and Team Menard. Greg Ray obviously did a good job in setting up the car, and I could get in and just flat- foot it. I think I did a total of seven flying laps in that car, and that includes qualifying. I think our chances of winning the Indy 500 just went up extremely. If I could do another 10 (laps), then I think we'll be good to go."

It was a tough day for 1997 IRL champion and current NASCAR Winston Cup competitor, Tony Stewart. Earlier this week, Stewart posted a quick lap of 226.683 mph. However, things began to go downhill on Thursday, when Stewart crashed during practice.

Due to Winston Cup commitments in Charlotte, Stewart was unable to practice yesterday, and he was fortunate to draw the second spot in the qualifying order, as he had to get back to Charlotte for this evening's event at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Despite rains which delayed the start of qualifying by an hour, Stewart was still able to make a qualifying run.

Without the luxury of waving-off his attempt, Tony had to take any reasonable speed. He wound up on the outside of the eighth row with a speed of 220.653 mph. It certainly isn't where Stewart is accustomed to starting for the Indy 500.

"We wanted to go quicker, obviously," Stewart said. "But we were flat out the whole way around. That's all the car had today. The air is much thicker today. We had such a nice week, as far as temperature and humidity were concerned. I am a little bit on the conservative side, but it was way too conservative for today, so it cost us a little bit. I don't know if it will be fast enough to stay in."

For the first time in history, the 33-car starting grid was filled on Pole Day. Scott Harrington pulled onto the circuit three minutes before the track closed for the day, and became the day's 33rd and final qualifier with a four-lap average of 219.702 mph.

Several notables have yet to complete a qualifying attempt. Robbie Buhl crashed his primary car during his first qualifying attempt, and did not get a chance to make a second run today. Dr. Jack Miller, who has shown plenty of speed this week, lost a motor on his second qualifying lap this afternoon. Miller's first lap was plenty quick enough, at 221.686 mph, but he needs four to make the show.

These two, along with '500' veterans Raul Boesel, Johnny Unser, Marco Greco, Mike Groff, Andy Michner and Jim Guthrie; and rookies Mike Borkowski, Nick Firestone, Brian Tyler and Dave Steele, are left to pray that it Bump Day doesn't rain out tomorrow. If it does, they will be spectators next Sunday.

The 33-car average speed is 221.422 mph, 3.107 mph faster than last year's field.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Greg Ray , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , Jim Guthrie , Raul Boesel , Dave Steele , Brian Tyler , Scott Harrington , Johnny Unser , Jack Miller