INDY FIELD IS SET, TWO EXTRA POSITIONS ADDED What started out to be a typical "bump day" of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 ended up more interesting than anyone could have imagined. Two spots were all that remained to be filled in the...
INDY FIELD IS SET, TWO EXTRA POSITIONS ADDED
What started out to be a typical "bump day" of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 ended up more interesting than anyone could have imagined.
Two spots were all that remained to be filled in the field of 33 when the track opened for qualifications. Johnny Unser, nephew of Bobby and Al, Sr., took the back-up car for defending race winner Buddy Lazier onto the course and put it in the field with a 209.344 mph average speed.
With one spot left, Greg Ray took to the course. The rookie was on his third attempt at making the race after running a half-lap short of fuel last Sunday on his first attempt, and losing an engine Saturday while warming up for his second try. This time, however, he was able to complete the run, averaging a solid 213.760 mph to fill the field.
With Alessandro Zampedri on the bubble, Paul Durant hit the track. Durant had first stepped foot in the A.J. Foyt Racing machine less than 50 minutes before beginning his qualification effort. His speed of 209.149 mph was fast enough to make the field and Zampedri was out.
Claude Borbonnais was the next qualifier and Johnny Unser was on the bubble. Bourbonnaise passed his rookie test earlier in the week but hadn't been able to get the car up to a competitive speed. Despite that, he averaged 210.523 mph in the third Team Blueprint entry and was in the race, moving Johnny Unser to an alternate position.
Zampedri, who had been keen to the possibility of being bumped, had been practicing in his back-up machine earlier in the week. He went back out in it to qualify and proceeded to bump Lyn St. James from the race with a 211.757 average speed.
Most of the rest of the afternoon belonged to the drivers that had already qualified, testing their race set-ups. A brief shower shortly after 2:00 p.m closed the track for 52 minutes. With only a few minutes remaining to make the race, Scott Harrington took to the course in a car obtained from A.J. Foyt Racing.
His first lap was 214.061 mph, well above the speed needed to secure a spot in the field. But as Harrington entered Turn 2 on his second qualifying lap he lost control and spun into the wall hard. He was transferred to Methodist Hospital and was expected to be released without any injuries later Sunday night.
The most shocking news of all, though, came after the track had closed for the day.
Leo Mehl, the Indy Racing League Vice-President and Executive Director, announced in a press conference that the field would be expanded to 35 cars to include Lyn St. James and Johnny Unser. "We must start the fastest 33 cars, so we will add the two bumped cars," said Mehl.
He added, "This is not an easy call to make. I can't tell you if this is the fairest, truest decision, but it was decided that this was what had to happen."
As a result, for the first time since 1979, more than 33 drivers will start in the Indianapolis 500. The 1997 field includes 13 rookies and has an average speed of over 212 mph.
For the complete starting line-up for the 1997 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, please visit our Web site at:
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