IRL: Indy500: Al Unser Jr. Fastest on First Day Back at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Saturday, May 13, 2000 - Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. proved today that his five-year absence from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hasn’t diminished his ability to go fast. Unser posted the top speed in the...

INDIANAPOLIS, Saturday, May 13, 2000 - Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. proved today that his five-year absence from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hasn’t diminished his ability to go fast. Unser posted the top speed in the opening day of practice for the 84th Indianapolis 500 with a lap of 217.223 mph in the #3 Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com-Starz Encore SuperPak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. “Today was a special day for me being back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Unser. “We went out on the track today with a plan to just shake the cars down and get used to the track. Not everyone was out on the track today, like Juan (Montoya) and Jimmy (Vasser), so there will definitely be some tough competition in the days ahead. It felt really neat to get the response I did from the fans, and I can’t tell you how much it means to be back here. “What we are going to concentrate the most on for the next six days is getting into the show. Once we do that then we will start thinking about Race Day.” The last time that Unser, of Albuquerque, N.M., participated in official Indianapolis 500 practice was 1995, when he drove for Penske Racing. Penske entered cars for Unser and teammate Emerson Fittipaldi that year, but neither driver qualified for the race. After Penske and Unser parted ways at the end of 1999, Unser signed with car owner Rick Galles to drive in the Northern Light Series fulltime. Galles was Unser’s car owner for his first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1992. He won again in 1994 with Penske. Experience was key to finding speed today, as former Indianapolis 500 winners recorded three of the four top speeds. The only exception was Stephan Gregoire, who was second fastest at 217.035 in the #7 Dick Simon Racing Mexmil-Tokheim-Viking Air Tools G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner, was third at 216.810 in the #91 Hemelgarn Racing Delta Faucet-Coors Light-Tae Bo Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, while Eddie Cheever Jr., the 1998 race winner, was fourth fastest at 216.773 in the #51 Excite@Home Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Cheever’s speed came less than two hours after he crashed in Turn 2 in his backup car. A mechanical malfunction caused Cheever to do a full spin in the short chute between Turns 1 and 2. The right rear of his car hit the outside retaining wall, causing heavy damage. Scott Harrington, the 1999 Northern Light Series Rookie of the Year, was fifth at 216.471 in the #17 Nienhouse Motorsports Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Twenty-two drivers practiced in 25 cars today, completing 559 laps. Brisk westerly winds remained steady throughout the day, with gusts up to 25 mph. Gregoire was first on the track when official practice began at 11 a.m. A Dick Simon Racing car has traditionally been the first car on the 2.5-mile oval for practice since the days when Simon was a driver. Practice continues from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (EST) Sunday, with gates opening to the public at 9 a.m. Admission is $5 for everyone age 6 and older, and free for children age 5 and younger. Northern Light Series drivers have until Friday to practice before qualifications begin on Pole Day, May 20. The 84th Indianapolis 500 gets underway at 11 a.m. (EST) on May 28.

-IRL/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Emerson Fittipaldi , Scott Harrington , Dick Simon