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Archive for Sunday, May 20, 2001

Drivers, teams readying for final qualifying day

May 20, 2001

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— The wheeling and dealing began in earnest Saturday as teams and drivers searched for speed on the eve of the final day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

Only one spot remains open in the 33-car field, but, once the lineup is filled today, faster drivers can bump out the slowest qualifiers one at a time until the 6 p.m. CDT end of the six-hour session.

After a rainout on Friday, the 21*2-mile Indy oval was a whirlwind of activity on the final full day of practice before the May 27 race, with 38 cars making it onto the track.

The drivers hoping to earn a starting spot were desperately trying to get up to speed, while many of those already in the field were working on their race day setups with only short periods of practice remaining today and Thursday during the traditional two-hour "Carburetion Day" session.

There was also plenty of intrigue in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garages, where team owners with proven spare cars were being visited by drivers looking for a ride and representatives of other teams needing a faster car.

"That car has the fastest laps of any extra car here," chortled Ron Hemelgarn, who has 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier solidly in the field and another Dallara race car that has turned laps above 223 in practice sitting in his garage. "I don't know what I'm going to do with it. I probably won't know until sometime Sunday. I'm open to offers."

Also among the best of the remaining unassigned cars is a Dallara from Kelley Racing, which already has polesitter Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore in the show.

A possible deal was cooking to put rookie Casey Mears, who has been struggling to get a Galles Racing entry up to speed, into the spare Kelley car with an Ilmor-prepared engine from Team Penske. Mears' uncle, four-time Indy winner Rick Mears, is a Penske consultant.

"Right now, everything is status quo at Galles Racing," team spokeswoman Cori Galles said. "Things could change later, though."

Mears went out in the same car he has been driving since crashing here in the first week of practice and got up only to 215.298.

One official change that did take place Saturday was a switch of teams for struggling Stephan Gregoire.

The French driver, a five-time Indy starter, admitted earlier this week he had lost confidence in his race car at Dick Simon Racing. Simon brought in 15-time Indy starter Roberto Guerrero to help get Gregoire into the 500-mile race.

His help was not enough to get Gregoire to that point, and Guerrero wound up qualifying the team's primary car last weekend.

Gregoire was offered a drive in Jeff Ward's backup car at Heritage Motorsports. Ward is already qualified at 224.222 mph and has put laps on his spare at over 222. Gregoire finally got in the car at mid-day and got it up to 217.796.

Meantime, Simon switched his focus to Guerrero, who is the slowest of last weekend's qualifiers at 220.054 and is almost certain to be bumped today.

"Right now, we're working on the type of setup Roberto would like," said Simon, who has put Guerrero in the team's year-old G Force in which Gregoire finished eighth last year.

Guerrero ran only briefly Saturday and had a fast lap of 212.264.

The fastest non-qualifier was Raul Boesel at 222.547, followed by former pole-winner Billy Boat at 222.177.

"I think there's easily a half dozen cars that are fast enough to bump their way into the lineup, and that doesn't count a lot of the crazy, last-minute things that happen on bump day," Boat said.

The fastest qualified drivers Saturday were pole-winner Scott Sharp at 221.218, Indy Racing League points leader Sam Hornish Jr. at 221.059 and two-time Indy runner-up Scott Goodyear at 220.183.

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