IRL: Sharp fastest on opening day at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, IND. (May 5, 2002) - The Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicked off official practice for the 86th running of the historic 500 mile race today with Scott Sharp setting the fastest lap. Sharp, who sat on the pole for last years race after...

INDIANAPOLIS, IND. (May 5, 2002) - The Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicked off official practice for the 86th running of the historic 500 mile race today with Scott Sharp setting the fastest lap. Sharp, who sat on the pole for last years race after qualifying at 226.037 mph, recorded today's best at 227.571.

When the checkered flag fell at 6:00 p.m., seven drivers had recorded laps faster than last year's pole speed.

Opening day at the Speedway started under bright skies with six former winners entered in this year's race taking a ceremonial lap in pyramid formation. Several minutes later, the track was opened for practice with Billy Boat completing the first lap. "We are just trying to be the first at everything this year," said Boat's engineer, Darrell Soppe. "I have never done this before, trying to be the first one out. We just thought it would be nice to do it."

Pre-race testing at the Speedway paid immediate dividends as speeds over 225 mph were recorded within the first hour. Helio Castroneves took to the track at 2:16 p.m. and two minutes later, he recorded a speed of 225.8 mph. It was only his fifth lap out of the box.

Castroneves ended the day second on the speed charts with a lap at 227.408.

Eddie Cheever and Bruno Junqueira were fast off the transporter too, recording speeds over 226 early in the day. Junqueira and Cheever were the fourth and fifth fastest, respectively.

"All you ever do on the first day is make sure everything is running properly," Cheever said. "Everybody wants to go fast but that is not really what our goal is today. We are trying to have a good balance. Once you have the balance, the speed comes by itself."

The only incident of the day involved Robbie McGehee when his car spun in turn three making hard impact with the new SAFER barrier with the left rear of the car. After the initial impact, McGehee's car spun clockwise, slapping the wall with the right front. Preliminary investigation indicates McGehee had a problem with his car before making initial contact with the wall.

"I turned it in and it broke loose," McGehee said. "I guess I'm the first driver to test the new soft wall system, which is a distinction I'd rather not have. I can tell you it's not soft. I hit hard. But I can also assure you that I'm very glad it was there."

After being assisted from the car by safety crews, McGehee limped away from the wreck under his own power.

McGehee was transported by ground to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for further evaluation after complaining of pain in his left leg.

The brand new SAFER soft wall technology responded exactly as expected, reducing G forces by half those recorded in similar accidents. McGehee's initial contact with the wall was measured at 40 Gs.

"The wall behaved in a very, very encouraging manner," said Brian Barnhart, Vice President of Operations for the Indy Racing League. "The car did not snag along the wall, it didn't have a rebound angle, the wall did not become detached, and the foam performed flawlessly. A lot of the issues identified with the PEDS system have been addressed so we are really pleased."

Practice continues on Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Notes from opening day of the 86th Indianapolis 500:

Firestone announced today a new tire sporting the Indy 500 name and logo. The Firehawk Indy 500 tire is an S-rated entry-level performance tire, available now at Firestone tire retailers in the United States. The Indy 500 tire will be available soon in Canada and South America.

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After finishing 37th in the NASCAR Winston Cup race at Richmond, Robby Gordon flew to Indianapolis where he was the 13th fastest driver of the day

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A total of 51 cars are now at the Speedway and 48 have passed technical inspection. Thirty drivers have been on track to date. Thirty nine cars were on track for practice on opening day. Thirty eight drivers have passed their physical examination and are cleared to drive.

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Lauren Crower was crowned the 2002 500 Festival Queen during today's opening ceremonies. Crower, who waved the checkered flag to end practice today, is from Indianapolis and is a student at Indiana University.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Eddie Cheever , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Helio Castroneves , Bruno Junqueira , Brian Barnhart