IRL: Indy 500: Rahal Letterman Racing Fast Friday report



INDIANAPOLIS - Rahal Letterman Racing drivers Scott Sharp (#8 Patron Dallara/Honda/Firestone) and Jeff Simmons (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone), put the final touches on their Indianapolis 500 Pole Day preparations today with a long day of running at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Both drivers surpassed the 200-lap mark for the week today, surpassing the 500-mile distance they will run in the Memorial Day Classic, taking place on May 29th.

Simmons made the biggest gains of the day as he broke the 222-mph barrier for the first time this month, checking in with a best lap of 40.4030 seconds (222.756 mph). He scored the time on his final stint of the day, turning his best lap on the 54th of his 56 trips around the 98-year-old track.

"We're making improvements and fine-tuning and we keep getting faster, but we're not really moving up the speed charts," Simmons reported. "We still have a little instability and we need to get that out of the car. We have a couple significant changes that we can try so we'll keep at it."

Sharp was close to his time from Thursday despite sitting out much of the afternoon as the Rahal Letterman Racing squad made a lightning-fast engine change in the heat of the day. Sharp got out with his new Honda Indy V8 powerplant in the last ninety minutes of the session and was able to gather some vital data as Pole Day preparations continue.

"You are always thinking about speed as you get closer to Saturday. The car is sliding around more than we want right now and we're not as fast as we need to be yet. My guys worked very hard today with the engine change and I know the Patron Rahal Letterman Racing team will continue to fight until we are solidly in the field."

The qualifying draw took place after the day's practice had ended, with each team getting a chance to determine the qualifying spots for each of their entries tomorrow. Each entry will have three qualifying attempts per day, with the top-11 times set into the field on each of the three days of practice leading to Bump Day on May 20th.

The first chance for RLR to qualify for the field will come with Sharp, whose primary car will be fifth in the qualifying order. Simmons' backup car will take the eighth place in line while his primary car occupies the 60th position in the order. Sharp's backup or 'T' car is 48th in line.

Teams will have just 90 minutes of practice tomorrow to make their last changes as the field will be split in half for a pair of 30-minute sessions from 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. with the following hour open to the entire field. The Indy Cars will go to the qualifying line at 11:45 am with qualification runs starting at noon.

"We'll have another chance in tomorrow's practice and it will be hard to get a lot done because there will be a lot of people on the track trying to get their setup right as well," Simmons said. "It will be important for us because we got a little behind on the first day, which made it twice as bad when we lost four hours to rain on the second day. But we know what we have in the car, we know where we should be. We will use tomorrow to get there so we give ourselves the best chance in qualifying."

Sharp earned quote-of-the-day honors at Indianapolis yesterday when he called the last 15 minutes of practice a 'tow-fest', referring to the drivers going out and getting additional speed by getting the draft of another car. His 12 previous trips to the Indianapolis 500 - including a 2001 event where he won the pole - has taught him that 10 miles of qualifying at Indianapolis when you are all by yourself will yield the real answers as to where the strength lies.

"All the quick times on the charts are in the draft so a lot of things could change tomorrow," Sharp said. "I've been on the front row here, I've started in the second, the third rows and the thing that really matters is what kind of car you have on race day. We are going to go for it tomorrow, but that won't decide this race."

-credit: rlr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Jeff Simmons