INDIANAPOLIS, May 12, 2001 - Scott Sharp trusted his faith and his IRL Aurora V8 today in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. Sharp was richly rewarded when he won the pole for the crown jewel of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series with Kelley...
INDIANAPOLIS, May 12, 2001 - Scott Sharp trusted his faith and his IRL Aurora V8 today in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. Sharp was richly rewarded when he won the pole for the crown jewel of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series with Kelley Racing's Delphi Oldsmobile Dallara. Sharp averaged 226.027 mph on his four-lap, ten-mile qualifying run. His speed eclipsed the Indy 500 four-lap qualifying record for naturally aspirated cars set by Arie Luyendyk at 225.179 mph in 1999.
"I just put my faith in the man upstairs and went along for the ride." said Sharp. "I went out there and hammered it. The car was a little loose on the first couple of laps and then it came in nicely for the rest of the run."
Greg Ray, last year's polesitter, and Robby Gordon will start alongside Sharp on the front row. Sharp made his qualifying run shortly after noon, and then had to wait for his rivals' challenges in the final hour before qualifying ended at 6:00 p.m. Ray averaged 225.194 mph in Team Menard's Oldsmobile Dallara to claim a front-row starting spot in the Indy 500 for the fourth straight year. Robby Gordon qualified third with a 224.994 mph run in an Oldsmobile Dallara that is co-owned by four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt and NASCAR Winston Cup-winning team owner Richard Childress.
Sharp relied on a 3.5-liter Oldsmobile engine prepared by Ilmor Engineering to turn the fastest lap ever recorded by a naturally aspirated engine at Indy. Sharp's 226.423 mph fastest lap surpassed the 225.643 mph single-lap record set by Luyendyk with a 4.0-liter engine before the maximum engine displacement for IRL cars was reduced to 3.5 liters at the start of the 2000 season.
"We're really pleased with the progress Ilmor has made," Sharp noted. "They didn't even have an Oldsmobile IRL engine on the dyno until last December. To see them catch up with all the guys who have been working hard on these engines for four years is pretty exciting."
The pole celebration was tempered by the sad news that Paul Morgan, co-founder of Ilmor Engineering, died today in a plane crash in England. "We were deeply saddened to hear of Paul Morgan's death," said Joe Negri, GM Racing IRL/Road Racing Group manager. "GM had a long and fruitful business relationship with Paul during the Chevy Indy V8 program, and we had just reestablished that relationship with Ilmor's entry into the Oldsmobile IRL program. On behalf of his many friends at General Motors, we extend our deepest sympathy to Paul's family and the employees of Ilmor."
Sharp will start on the sharp end of the grid for the first time in the Indy 500 and the third time in his IRL career. He previously started on the pole on one-mile ovals at Pikes Peak (1997) and Orlando (1999). Sharp maintained Oldsmobile's perfect record of 42 consecutive pole starts. Oldsmobile engines swept the first two rows of the starting grid and powered 24 of the 27 first-day qualifiers. Three drivers using Infiniti 35A engines qualified ninth, 16th, and 25th.
Sharp won the $100,000 MBNA Pole Award and the Oldsmobile Official Pace Car Award, a new 2001 Aurora. Jim Vurpillat, brand manager for Bravada, presented the award to Sharp and team owner Tom Kelley at the conclusion of qualifying. "The entire Oldsmobile organization congratulates Scott and Kelley Racing on their pacesetting performance," said Vurpillat, "and we thank them for putting Oldsmobile on the pole at the Indy 500 for the fifth straight year."
The two Kelley Racing entries will line up nose-to-tail as Sharp's teammate Mark Dismore qualified on the inside of the second row. "The engine performance was great," said Dismore. "The motor was really strong, we just missed a little on the setup. We're looking forward to the race."
"Today was an exceptional demonstration of the level of competition in the IRL - just look at the closeness of the field," said Negri. "GM is again off to a fast start at the Indy 500. The few problems that teams had with engines built to special qualifying specifications are to be expected when engine builders are trying to wring out the last bit of performance for a four-lap sprint. We believe we have an extremely reliable engine package for the race."
After six days of practice in balmy weather, teams had to adjust for chilly 50-degree temperatures at the start of qualifying. Ray waved off his first qualifying attempt before making a last-minute run for the pole at 5:11 p.m. "I wasn't happy with the car the first time," Ray explained. "We went back and thought about it. I was flat on the gas for 15 of the 16 corners. I drove into Turn 1 and the car just went straight. I had to lift, and that killed my exit speed all the way through Turn 2 and the back straight. That's what made that last lap fall off nearly a full mile-per-hour."
Gordon also waited for cooler afternoon temperatures to launch his assault on the pole. "A.J. had a couple of tricks up his sleeve and we thought we might have something for these guys," Gordon said, " but they put numbers up a little higher than we could.
"This year you can bet I will beat Greg through Turn 1," Gordon promised.
Oldsmobile Qualifying Quotes
Gil de Ferran, Marlboro Team Penske Oldsmobile Dallara, qualified fifth at 224.406 mph: "It was so cold the car was twitchy on cold tires. That was very much on my mind as I went out onto the racetrack. The first lap was good. We were having difficulty gearing the car this morning, so about halfway through the run I changed gears and I think I left a little on the plate in the last two laps. It was a good, solid run. I didn't have any heart-stopping moments. Here you run wide open all the way around, so it's just a matter of getting the car on the limit. When you're wide open all the time the car is not accelerating a tremendous amount."
Tony Stewart, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Oldsmobile G Force, 1997 IRL champion, qualified seventh at 224.248 mph: "The first two laps weren't bad, but at the end of the second lap the car started to get a little tight. With the wind blowing down the front straight, my car just got tighter on the third and fourth lap. I was probably more driver error than anything. I only put a half-turn of front wing in before the run, and probably should have asked for a turn and a half. I figured we were better off being on the conservative side than going over the top. With the new engine package, it's like what we see at Daytona or Talladega with the Winston Cup cars. If you can see a car ahead of you, you are getting drafting help from him and it shows up in the practice speeds."
Buddy Lazier, Hemelgarn Racing Oldsmobile Dallara, 1996 Indy 500 winner, 2000 IRL champion, qualified 10th at 224.190 mph: "The car was awesome, just perfect. I looked down and saw 225 and I knew the tires hadn't quite got up to temperature yet. I figured we could qualify just a little bit higher, and then the thing just started to slow down. For a team that focuses all of its effort on being the baddest cats in town on race day, that kind of qualifying run is exciting. My car would certainly have been capable of starting on the front row."
Sarah Fisher, Walker Racing Kroger Special Oldsmobile Dallara, qualified 15th at 222.548 mph: "We've been trying all week to get speed out of the car and we've only been able to accomplish 220. This morning we got a 223 out of it. In qualifying we ran the four most consistent laps we've run all week. I'm very pleased with the results that we got. The team did an awesome job putting the together. We made some last-minute changes to counteract for the temperature increase."