Salazar Still Out At Indy

INDIANAPOLIS – A.J. Foyt has four Indianapolis 500 wins to his credit as a driver and one as an owner, but on Sunday he and his driver, Eliseo Salazar, are still on the sidelines at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For the second straight day, a faulty engine derailed Salazar’s attempt to get the legendary No. 14 Dallara-Aurora into the field.

Salazar appeared to be safely qualified after putting together three laps at more than 223 mph, but on his fourth and final lap, his engine let go in the final turn of the 2.5-mile oval. On Pole Day, Salazar crashed when his engine blew, putting oil under his rear wheels and sending him into a spin.

Salazar is second in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series points standings after finishing in the Top 5 of the first three races of the season.

In a busy final half-hour of qualifying, Michael Andretti withdrew his No. 39 car from the field and qualified his backup No. 39T Dallara-Aurora at 223.441 mph. Andretti had posted a 220.747 mph run on Pole Day, but that was the fourth slowest of the day, putting him in danger of being bumped out by faster cars.

“I never went through this before, and I feel sorry for the guys who have,” Andretti said. “It was a team decision (to withdraw the already-qualified No. 39T), it wasn’t my decision.

“If I would have had this setup yesterday, we wouldn’t be in the position we were.”

Veteran Eddie Cheever Jr., who qualified on Pole Day with the third slowest speed at 220.513 mph in his No. 51T, also withdrew his backup car and qualified his primary at 222.152 mph.

Buzz Calkins took advantage of Happy Hour as well and withdrew his already-qualified No. 12T car and qualified his No. 12 Dallara-Aurora. His four-lap speed average was 222.467 mph.

Before withdrawing, Calkins’ No. 12T would have been on the bubble with a qualifying speed of 220.096 mph. He knew that speed would not make the race.

“I think about mid-afternoon yesterday (Saturday) we knew we were going to be in trouble,” Calkins said. “It’s a big risk (to withdraw an already-qualified car), but if you look at what the weather was, it was just a matter of time.”

The day began with six of the 33 starting spots unclaimed, but they were quickly cut in half with Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s rookie duo of Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian, and PDM Racing’s Jeret Schroeder qualifying in near perfect conditions.

Junqueira qualified with a four-lap average of 224.208 mph in the No. 44T G Force-Aurora. Minassian put in a four-lap qualifying run of 223.006 mph in the No. 33T G Force-Aurora.

“I just jumped in the car this morning and ran a few laps,” Minassian said. “You just have to get in and do it.”

Chip Ganassi’s team now has four cars in the Indy 500 field, the first time that’s happened since 1997, when Team Scandia had Fermin Velez, Marco Greco, Vincenzo Sospiri, Eliseo Salazar and Alessandro Zampedri start the race.

Schroeder finally got his No. 9T in the field after enduring two practice crashes this past week. He put together a four-lap qualification run of 222.786 mph in PDM Racing’s Dallara-Aurora.

Late last week, Schroeder destroyed two of his cars in practice crashes just about two weeks after being involved in an 11-car pileup in the ZMAX 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“PDM has built two cars this past week,” Schroeder said. “Yesterday we took the new car out – it was built in 24 hours – and went 210. Last night, the crew worked real hard to get the car ready. We went out this morning, and the car went 222. I knew we were ready.

“Conditions today were the best I’ve seen all week. No wind; temperatures optimal.”

Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver Davey Hamilton also qualified just after time trials began at 1 p.m. ET. He ended a week of struggles with a four-lap effort of 221.696 mph. With the solid run, Hamilton keeps alive his streak of starting every Indy Racing Northern Light Series race since 1996. When he takes the green flag for the Indy 500 on May 27, the streak will reach 47 consecutive starts.

“We were trying so hard to get that team together without sponsorship,” Hamilton said. “This is what it is all about. All the others are warm-ups for the Indy 500, but thank God the streak is still alive.”

Hamilton has the pole-winning team of Kelley Racing to thank for making it into the Indy 500 for the sixth time. Team owner Tom Kelley loaned Sam Schmidt Motorsports one of its Ilmor-built Auroras.

“If it wasn’t for Kelley Racing, Treadway-Hubbard Racing, Firestone and Sam Schmidt, who knows where we’d be,” Hamilton said. “My goal was to make the Indy 500, but my next one is to win this race and then the championship.”

“I want to thank Tom Kelley and Jim Freudenburg for lending us a motor,” Schmidt said. “That last time they did that, I finished second at Vegas. Maybe they are my lucky charm.”

The track stayed quiet for the better part of the next hour after Stan Wattles destroyed Hemelgarn Racing’s No. 94 Dallara-Aurora in a hard crash in turns 1 and 2.

Wattles was uninjured and cleared to drive after being examined at the infield care center. After two wrecks in three days, Wattles said he might be done for the month.

“I’m not going to evaluate it, but to speak off the cuff, it’s possible,” he said. “If God wanted me in there, I would have been in there.”

Later in the day, however, he re-assessed the situation after meeting with this team. The crew decided to repair the car and expects to be on the track for practice on Wednesday.

Buddy Lazier crashed Hemelgarn’s other unqualified car at 5:30 ET in the south short chute between turns 1 and 2. Lazier entered Turn 1 safely in the No. 94 Dallara-Aurora but wiggled in the short chute and collected the outside wall with the left rear and left front. Damage was light.

He got out of the car and was cleared to drive after visiting the care center.

The last day of qualifications – Bump Day – is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 20.

Race Center

Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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