Iindy Pole Day:/I Eyes On The Prize
May 12, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
INDIANAPOLIS - Pole Day qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most intriguing motorsports events of the year, but with seven hours of qualifying it can he difficult to keep tabs of everything that's going on.
Here are 10 things to watch for in Saturday's Indy 500 qualifying. Greg Ray: He’s been able to find pole-potential speed whenever he wants. Whether it is early and cool or late and hot, Team Menard’s No. 2 Dallara-Aurora always seems to be one of the fastest cars on the track. And because Ray has two cars capable of going fast at his disposal, Team Menard is most definitely a favorite to snatch a second consecutive Indy pole. Look for Ray to qualify early and, if someone tops his speed, go out late with a backup car to reclaim the pole.
Kelley Racing: This team has a one-two punch of Mark Dismore and Scott Sharp. Both drivers have topped the speed charts this week in practice, with Sharp topping out at more than 226 mph. With Ilmor Engineering building the team’s engines, Kelley looks to have the combination to challenge Team Menard for the pole.
Jeff Ward: Besides Greg Ray, this Indy Racing Northern Light Series veteran is the only other driver to start from the pole this season. Ward has been fast in practice and has the same engines as Team Menard. Ward’s experience at Indy is also a plus. He’s started in the Top 10 twice in the Indy 500 and has finished second, third, fourth and 13th in four appearances.
Rookies: Other than Felipe Giaffone, rookies have struggled so far at Indy. Casey Mears was lucky to walk away from a nasty crash on Tuesday, but he had struggled to work out a competitive speed in his G Force-Aurora. Didier Andre, Mears’ teammate at Galles Racing, is in the same boat. Jon Herb, Brandon Erwin and Cory Witherill have also struggled. If they can’t get up to speed this weekend, they’ll be in danger of not making the race.
Happy Hour: The top practice speeds this week have been turned in between 5 and 6 p.m. During that time, the track begins to cool as the day’s temperature begins to fall. Also, the grandstands cast a gigantic shadow covering almost the entire frontstretch that dramatically cools the track in that area and helps produce fast speeds. When 4:30 p.m. rolls around, teams will begin lining up in the technical inspection line in preparation for Happy Hour runs. Don’t be surprised if a pole run originates in the last hour of qualifying on Saturday.
Weather Conditions: If it’s hot and sunny, speeds will not be as fast as they have been in the near-perfect weather conditions experienced this week in practice. If it’s cool and cloudy, speeds could match or surpass the 225s and 226s that have been run in practice. If it rains the night before or the morning before qualifying, that will change the characteristics of the track, particularly making it slicker, and keeping speeds down. Finally, watch the wind. If it’s strong, it could affect the handling of the IRNLS cars and keep speeds down, especially if there is a crosswind in the turns.
Wave-off Speed: At some time during the day, a team will attempt to qualify but then come in and abort the run if the team believes it is not producing a competitive speed. That speed will most likely be in the 219 to 220 mph range. After one team waves off at a particular speed, that will be the benchmark that most other teams will strive to achieve. When Bump Day rolls around, drivers hovering around that wave-off speed will be in danger of being bumped out of the field by a faster car.
Race Invaders: The return of CART teams such as Penske Racing, Team Green and Chip Ganassi Racing and drivers such as Scott Goodyear, Tony Stewart and Arie Luyendyk will make it harder for low-budget teams to make the race. These one-offs, as they are called, put all of their effort into this race and are most certainly in position to qualify up front.
Arie Luyendyk: The 37-year-old veteran is going for his 16th start in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, and he came out of retirement just for this race. He has reunited with the same Treadway crew that put him in victory lane in 1997. In qualifying, Luyendyk traditionally does well at Indy. He’s won three poles at Indy and has started on the front row two other times. This year he’s been fast in practice and has proven his brief retirement hasn’t hindered his skills. With his experience, Luyendyk should pull off a fast run.
A.J. Foyt’s Team: Foyt always seems to have his team ready for Pole Day, and this year is no different. Drivers Eliseo Salazar and Robby Gordon have consistently been fast in practice. No one would like to win the pole more than Foyt, a four-time winner at Indy.