By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune/Chicago Sun-Times News Group — May 14, 2007
Indy is about opportunity. Qualifying deep in the field, does not necessarily count you out when it comes to winning the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” There is no better example of this phenomenon than as evidenced by Jacques Villeneuve’s spectacular victory in the 1995 Indianapolis 500, when in the middle of the race, he charged from two laps down to take the checkered flag.
Indy has always been about charging into the right place, at the right time.
With 11 spots already spoken for in the 91st running of one of the world’s prestigious racing traditions, 17 drivers pushed their cars relentlessly around this legendary oval to ensure they had secured a place in this year’s 500 during qualifying on Sunday
Weather for qualifying was identical to yesterdays near perfect conditions, greeting drivers at noon with an ambient temperature of 72 degrees and the track surface registering 106 degrees.
After yesterdays late afternoon excitement with the pole position changing hands within the last five minutes of the session, the three drivers (Scott Sharp, Jeff Simmons and Ed Carpenter) that were bumped from the top eleven qualifiers, were more than ready to get down to business today.
Scott Sharp, the 2001 Indy 500 pole winner, and bidding for a place in his 13th Indianapolis 500 (and 10th in a row) was the first out on the track for qualifying right after the 12 noon green flag. His four-lap track average of 223.875 mph, put him solidly into the field on the outside of the fourth row.
Trying to gauge track conditions, nine drivers qualified within the first hour. The fifth row filled out fast with Rahal-Letterman Racing’s, Jeff Simmons in the No. 17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda at 223.693 mph on the inside. Next is Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Vision Racing Hitachi Dallara/Honda at 223.495 mph and Darren Manning in the A.J. Foyt Racing No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda, running 223.471 mph, is on the outside.
The sixth row consists of 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice at 222.826 mph in the Dreyer & Reinbold No. 15. In the middle is Kosuke Matsuura in the No. 55 Panther Racing entry at 222.595 mph, and on the outside is AJ Foyt IV in the Vision Racing No. 22 car who finished the day at 222.413 mph.
The seventh row is filled with sentimental favorites for many Indy fans. First is Vitor Meira, who is a well respected driver, known to consistently run with the leaders, but also suffers from sporadic episodes of bad luck. Meira is behind the wheel of the No. 4 Panther Racing Delphi Dallara/Honda and qualified at 222.333 mph.
Next to Meira, is Davey Hamilton, whose courageous return to Indy racing after 25 feet and ankle surgeries, the result of a terrible crash at Texas Motor Speedway six years ago, has all the makings of a great Indy 500 story. Hamilton’s No. 02 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda qualified at 222.327 mph. When asked how he felt to finally get qualified, he replied “It’s the best. I can’t really believe it’s happening to be honest with you. Hamilton, he face beaming, then said “I honestly didn’t really think I had the opportunity to come back and do this.”
Lastly, on the outside of the of the seventh row, is the young woman who has the highest qualifying speed on record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 229.439 mph she ran during qualifying for the 2002 Indy 500. Coincidently, Sarah Fisher was driving for same Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team she is now. When asked about making her sixth Indianapolis 500, she replied “It’s great to be back here. Indianapolis means so much …” She followed up by saying “To carry my helmet in last Monday was an incredible feeling. I wouldn’t let anyone else do it.”
The final spot became one of attrition as initially Al Unser, Jr. in the AJ Foyt Racing No. 55 Dallara/Honda was in position at 220.963 mph. But he was bumped very late in the afternoon by Jon Herb in the No. 19 Racing Professionals Dallara/Honda at 221.070 mph. But then at 5:52pm, former Indy 500 Champion Buddy Lazier wheeled the Sam Schmidt Motorsports No. 99 Sanitec Industries Dallara/Honda onto the brickyard and laid out a qualifying effort of 221.380 mph, bumping Herb from the lineup and locking Lazier into his 15th Indianapolis 500.
Twenty-two cars are now qualified for the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500.
The track is closed Monday and Tuesday, then reopens on Wednesday, for the remainder of the week.
Qualifying for an additional 11 entries continues next Saturday, May 19th.