IRL: Indy500: Pole Day

Ken Plotkin - Indianapolis, IN, May 20, 2000. Greg Ray made a dramatic late-afternoon run to capture the pole for next week's 84th running of the Indianapolis 500. His speed of 223.471 mph pushed Juan Montoya, whose 223.372 mph...

Ken Plotkin -

Indianapolis, IN, May 20, 2000. Greg Ray made a dramatic late-afternoon run to capture the pole for next week's 84th running of the Indianapolis 500. His speed of 223.471 mph pushed Juan Montoya, whose 223.372 mph stood atop the charts for much of the afternoon, into the middle of the second row. Eliseo Salazar rounded out the front row at 223.221 mph.

Both Ray and teammate Robby Gordon waved off earlier runs, with Team Menard determined to come out on top. Ray's car was pulled out of its original position in the qualifying line, with team owner John Menard explaining "It's early. We're trying to get the pole today, and we want to make sure everything is right."

Ray took a wild ride to the pole. "I was flat all four laps and grazing the wall. Especially with the cold tires you just have to hold your breath and hang on. The car was definitely on the edge. I think we slung a (wheel) weight on the back straight accelerating for the first time. There was a huge vibration in the car. I knew I didn't really have a chance to take it back in - that was going to be my second attempt. When you get down to the last attempt, that gets very frightening, so I just left my foot in and drove it."

He was pleased to beat Montoya's time. "You always want to measure yourself against the best, whether they're CART drivers or IRL drivers. Most of these guys blow me away with what they do on the racetrack. It's another way of measuring yourself. If you can bring the best of CART, bring the best of IRL, bring in the drivers like Robby Gordon from Winston Cup and other drivers from dirt track not only is it exciting for the drivers but it's exciting for the fans, exciting for the media."

Juan Montoya was very happy with his run and his first experience at Indianapolis qualifying. "It's pretty interesting getting four laps together, very different. We had a bit of understeer in Turn 1, but the car was good. We've tried lots of things all week: try this, try that. But every day we've been pretty fast. Chip and all the guys did a great job." He discounted thoughts that running here was easy. "I don't think it's easy. The Target team is just a good team. Target and Budweiser gave us the opportunity to do well. We've been working on the cars, and I really like them."

Eliseo Salazar was pleased and somewhat surprised to turn today's lap speeds. "This morning I did the fastest lap of anybody for the entire month. That's the way he (car owner A.J. Foyt) said we were going to do it: peak on Saturday. He won this thing four times. I'll do whatever he says. I went out and did what he said, so what can you say? We're happy to be on the front row, I've devoted all my life to this."

Greg Ray's Menard teammate Robby Gordon used up all three attempts trying to come out on top. After two wave-offs, including one that would have been over 222 mph, he took a third try at 222.885 mph, good for the inside of the second row. "The run actually wasn't difficult. The waveoffs came for a couple of reasons. The first time, the car pushed really, really badly. The next time I came out I had an even faster warmup time. We felt we were getting pretty good, but still had understeer in the car, so I tried to get down real low in Turn number 1. The car got on the rumble strip and got turned sideways. I was fortunate to save it and come back in and think about it. Everybody said 'You got loose: why don't you put more front bite or bigger stagger on the car?' so that's exactly what we did."

The day had an odd consistency. Temperature was in the mid 50s, winds were very light or calm, and the sky was heavily overcast. This made for fast conditions where time of day did not matter: there was no waiting for the cool of the evening for fast runs. A number of cars set their fastest time of the month during morning practice, and many cars were heard to hit their rev limiter before the end of the straights. Salazar's fast time was aided by the experience of teammate Jeff Ward, whose sixth place speed of 222.639 mph was restricted by too low a gear and the rev limiter; Salazar then changed to a taller gear for his run.

The cold weather brought with it the problem of cold tires. Al Unser Jr. took a conservative approach, with a slow 218.187 mph first lap in a run that had a four lap average of 220.293. Unser was satisfied with the 18th place starting position: after a five year absence from the 500, his goal was to get safely into the race. "I can safely say we're back now. The first lap wasn't what I wanted, but we were on cold tires and I didn't want to take a chance." While he would have liked to start further up, his goal is to win. "My dad has proven that you can start this race from anywhere and win."

Others were not so lucky. During morning practice, there were four spins. During qualifying, Jimmy Kite, Scott Harrington, Memo Gidley, Lyn St. James and Hideshi Matsuda crashed, with all of the incidents occurring on either a warm-up lap or the first qualifying lap. All drivers were unhurt, and have been cleared to drive.

Twenty three cars successfully completed qualifying runs. Nineteen cars are scheduled to take qualifying runs tomorrow. "Bubble Day" qualifying will be from noon to 6 pm, with morning practice from 10 to 11:15 am. Gates at the Speedway will open to the public at 8 am

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Eliseo Salazar , Jeff Ward , Memo Gidley , Jimmy Kite , Scott Harrington , Matsuda Hideshi