Two open-wheel title holders will start the Indianapolis 500 side-by-side as reigning IRL champion Greg Ray and defending CART champion Juan Montoya qualified 1-2 on Pole Day for the 84th Indianapolis 500. Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 engines ...
Two open-wheel title holders will start the Indianapolis 500 side-by-side as reigning IRL champion Greg Ray and defending CART champion Juan Montoya qualified 1-2 on Pole Day for the 84th Indianapolis 500. Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 engines powered the nine fastest qualifiers for next weekend's 500-mile classic. This is the fourth straight year that Oldsmobile has won the Indy 500 pole.
Cool temperatures and an overcast sky produced near-perfect conditions for Oldsmobile's naturally aspirated racing engine. Ray won his first Indy 500 pole with a four-lap average speed of 223.471 mph, while Montoya was a heartbeat behind at 223.372 mph. Eliseo Salazer, driving for last year's winning car owner A.J. Foyt, claimed the outside front row starting spot with a 223.231 mph qualifying run. Robby Gordon, on sabbatical from the NASCAR stock car series, qualified Team Menard's second Oldsmobile Dallara with the fourth fastest speed at 222.885. Gordon will start directly behind his teammate Ray on the inside of the second row.
Ray secured a front-row starting spot in the Indy 500 for the third consecutive year after waving off his first qualifying attempt in Team Menard's Conseco Oldsmobile Dallara after completing only one lap. Two hours and 40 minutes later, Ray wrested the pole from Montoya on his second attempt.
"The car was definitely on the edge," said Ray. "I think I lost a wheel weight on the back straight and had a huge vibration. I just left my foot in it.
"To be fast here, you have to take downforce out of the car," he explained. "When you're qualifying, you have to get closer to the edge and manhandle the car. I thought I was going to scrape the wall a couple of times. There are 16 corners, and the car was sliding in all 16 of them. I know for a fact that I can hold my breath for 160 seconds."
Ray won the Oldsmobile Official Pace Car Award, a new Silhouette minivan. Pete Langenhorst, Silhouette brand manager, presented the award to Ray and team owner John Menard at the conclusion of qualifying. "I have two young sons, so I know this Silhouette is going to get a lot of use," Ray quipped.
Montoya was pleased with both his car and his performance in his first visit to the historic Speedway. "I'm very happy," said the 23-year-old Colombian. "It was very consistent with all of the laps at 223 mph. The engines have been very good. I like the car; it's fast and friendly."
The three front-row qualifiers represented three independent Oldsmobile engine builders: Team Menard (Greg Ray), Comptech (Juan Montoya), and Roush Technologies (Eliseo Salazar). The four fastest qualifiers all used 90-degree crankshafts in their Oldsmobile engines rather than the new 180-degree "flat" cranks that were introduced this year.
"We had to make a choice," said team owner John Menard. "We could have used the 180-degree crankshaft which would probably have been quicker in qualifying, but it vibrates a bit more and that could affect the rest of the car in a 500-mile race. We chose to go with the 90-degree design. Butch Meyer, who runs our engine program, told me, 'I may not be able to make as much power with the 90-degree, but I can give you a good engine for the pole.' As it turned out, he gave us an engine that was good enough to do it.
"We have not had one engine problem all month," Menard reported. "Those guys in the engine shop are technically expert, and we're looking forward to some great race engines."
Qualifying for the 33-car field will continue on "Bump Day," Sunday, May 21, until 6:00 p.m. local time. Bump Day qualifying will be televised live on ESPN (noon-1 p.m. EDT), ABC (2:30-4:30 p.m.), and ESPN2 (4:30-7 p.m.).