Ray Remains Man To Beat
May 7, 2001 | 4:29 P.M. EST
Ray put together the fastest lap of a rain-shortened practice Monday at IMS with a 222.976 mph lap. On Sunday’s opening day of practice, Ray toured the 2.5-mile oval at 224.301 mph.
The Team Menard driver isn’t trying to make any statements with his strong runs, he’s just trying to win "the biggest race in the world."
"Conditions were good yesterday evening and we were running pretty good and we had been running pretty quick," Ray said of his Sunday run. "I don’t think that was the gauntlet. You’re going to see some guys throw down some laps at 225 and 226, and if conditions are just right you might even see 227."
Conditions weren’t just right on Monday. Before rain put a halt to the practice session at 3 p.m. ET, drivers battled unpredictable winds and track conditions ranging from sunny and warm to cloudy and cool. That kept speeds below Sunday’s hot laps.
Regardless, seven drivers were able to break the 220-mph barrier, led by Ray in his No. 2 Dallara-Aurora. Veteran Arie Luyendyk, attempting to make his 16th Indy 500, was second on the speed charts at 221.340 mph in Treadway-Hubbard Racing’s No. 5 G Force-Aurora.
Ray held down the third spot, too, in Team Menard’s No. 22 car at 221.130 mph. It took him just six laps to get the No. 22 up to speed.
"We had a setup on the second car I ran, and I had feelings from the very beginning that I wasn’t going to like that setup," Ray explained. "Three or four laps into it I was just feeling my way around, and lo and behold the exit speeds were pretty high and I was able to stay in the throttle. We had quite a bit of downforce in the car, but I think the cool conditions that came in at the end really helped that car.
"I was really just pleasantly surprised. I was very pleased with how it handled."
Eliseo Salazar was fourth fastest in A.J. Foyt’s legendary No. 14 machine. He posted a 220.634 mph lap in his Dallara-Aurora. Scott Sharp rounded out the Top 5 with a 220.340 mph lap in Kelley Racing’s No. 8 Dallara-Aurora.
The biggest news of the day took place off the track. As expected, Chip Ganassi withdrew his rookie drivers and replaced them with NASCAR Winston Cup star Tony Stewart and CART FedEx Championship Series driver Jimmy Vasser.
Stewart and Vasser wasted no time in getting some seat time in Ganassi’s No. 33 and No. 44 G Force-Auroras. Both drivers put in almost 30 laps.
Stewart's top speed was 215.474 mph; Vasser clocked in at 219.381 mph, good for 10th best.
"We just knocked the cobwebs off," Stewart said. "We didn't set the world on fire, and we didn't get too many laps in.
"This is a whole new team for me, and we have to get to know each other."
Michael Andretti also made his long-awaited debut at Indy in Team Green’s No. 39 Dallara-Aurora. He topped out at 217.636 mph in 37 laps of action.
"I think the goals were just to get settled in a little bit," said Andretti, who last competed at Indy in 1995. ""I don't think anybody's going to beat Ray for the pole. I just want to qualify in the top 10. I've never qualified real well anyway."
Cory Witherill brought out the first accident-related yellow flag of the month when he lost control of his No. 16 G Force-Aurora on the exit of Turn 1. Witherill completed a 450-degree spin and tagged the inside wall nose-first in the short chute between turns 1 and 2. After tapping the wall, Witherill bounced off and spun another 90 degrees.
Witherill climbed out of the car unaided and was not injured.
Although Witherill’s accident was the first official incident of the month, Luyendyk may have been the first competitor to make contact with the wall. On one of his early laps, he brushed the concrete in Turn 1.
"That’s not the way to drive at the Speedway," Luyendyk said. "I knicked the wall in Turn 1. I think it’s a first for me. I’ve hit the wall very hard with the tires before, but this one was soft."
Practice for the Indy 500 resumes at noon Tuesday.