IRL: Indy500: Ray fastest on opening day

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 6, 2001 - Greg Ray turned the fastest lap of Indianapolis Star Opening Day for the 85th Indianapolis 500 on May 6 with a speed of 224.301 mph as preparations for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing got underway. Ray's top...

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 6, 2001 - Greg Ray turned the fastest lap of Indianapolis Star Opening Day for the 85th Indianapolis 500 on May 6 with a speed of 224.301 mph as preparations for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing got underway.

Ray's top time around the 2.5-mile oval was 40.125 seconds in the No. 2T Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone as he aims for his second consecutive pole position at Indy. He turned his top lap late in the day.

"The wind kind of died down," 1999 Indy Racing champion Ray said. "We put on a new set of tires. We changed some things on the aero package. It was a combination of all those things. "This is the place that everyone wants to be. We are really trying to keep our nose down and stay focused. We want to do good things on the racetrack, but we want to mind our P's and Q's and work hard. One day of testing doesn't mean anything." Heavy rain ended practice six minutes ahead of schedule despite most of the day's activity taking place under sunny skies.

1998 Indy winner Eddie Cheever Jr. led half of the opening 4 ½-hour practice and ended up second overall at 220.968 in the #51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier was third at 220.221 in the No. 91 Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Life Fitness/Delta Faucet Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 runner-up Scott Goodyear, driving this year as Cheever's teammate, climbed into the fourth spot overall just before the rain arrived with a speed of 220.084 in the No. 52 Cheever Indy Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. 1998 pole winner Billy Boat rounded out the top five at 219.765 in the No. 98 CURB Records Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

One of the more impressive performances of the day came from two drivers who only were on track for a brief spell.

Penske Racing teammates Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves combined to turn 28 laps late in the afternoon despite racing in the CART event earlier in the day at Nazareth, Pa. de Ferran was ninth overall at 219.243 in the No. 66 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, while Castroneves was 14th at 216.608 in the No. 68 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. de Ferran and Castroneves, team owner Roger Penske and other team members took a 1-hour, 17-minute private jet flight from Nazareth to Indy so preparations could start in Penske's first attempt to qualify for the 33-car field since 1995. "It's great," Penske said about returning to Indy. "We have to be real careful. We have two rookie drivers (de Ferran didn't complete a lap in his only start in 1995). We don't want to make any mental mistakes. This place can jump on you. We've got to concentrate on making the race."

Longtime Indy driver turned team owner Dick Simon continued his Brickyard tradition by putting the first car on track, driven by Stephan Gregoire. It was a momentous day for Simon, who watched his former driver Lyn St. James announce her Indy Racing retirement. Simon also unveiled Yellow as Gregoire's sponsor for the month of May.

1992 Bank One Rookie of the Year St. James turned two ceremonial laps in Simon's car before pulling into the pit lane and handing her helmet to Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George. She was the second female driver in history to start at Indy and has made seven starts at the Speedway, more than any other woman.

Other Indianapolis 500 champions on track today were two-time winner Arie Luyendyk, seventh fastest at 219.481 in the No. 5 Meijer G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone; and two-time winner Al Unser Jr., 13th overall at 216.639 in the No. 3 Galles Racing Starz SuperPak Budweiser G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

Northern Light Cup points leader Sam Hornish Jr. was 12th overall at 216.878 in his No. 4T Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

A total of 38 cars and 35 drivers turned 874 incident-free laps today. Practice resumes from noon-7 p.m. (EDT) Monday. MBNA Pole Day is May12; Race Day is May 27.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Arie Luyendyk , Scott Goodyear , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Lyn St. James , Tony George , Roger Penske , Dick Simon , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske