Sharp Ready Set To Go At Indy
May 6, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Sharp is coming off a third-place finish in the ZMAX 500 on April 28. It was Sharp’s third-straight top-10 finish and his best finish since his dramatic, history-making win at Texas last June.
The strong run has filled Sharp with confidence as his Kelley Racing team begins to focus on the Indianapolis 500.
"It was huge for the Delphi team," Sharp said. "It really was. We’ve struggled a little bit. We’re on a development curve with Ilmor, our engine builder. They’ve done a fabulous job for us, it just seems like we couldn’t get things going quite like we wanted to the first couple of race. We’ve been winning testing, which doesn’t mean much, but it certainly shows we can get the speed, we just haven’t been able to necessarily duplicate it in the races.
"Atlanta was really the shot in the arm the team needed. To go to a competitive atmosphere like at Atlanta, do well and be able to come back to the Speedway, everyone’s very excited."
Indy is one of the tracks 33-year-old Sharp has visited during the testing season and his most recent trip to the Brickyard came last month. The team put in a "strong test," he said, and has already shifted some its focus to race day.
"We’ve already started doing long race runs, which have gone very well," Sharp explained. "We have a brand-new race car we never turned a wheel with that we’re going to shake down Sunday and we’re going to get right with the program.
"We plan on working on trying to go fast and on race setups every day."
Sharp doesn’t have a speed goal in mind for his No. 8 Dallara-Aurora, but he has an idea of what it will take to capture the pole during qualifications Saturday.
"Last year’s pole was a four-lap average of 223.4 (Greg Ray), and we’re all expecting if you want the pole you’re going to run at least a mile an hour faster than that," said Sharp, who qualified fifth at Indy last year at 222.810. "I will not at all be surprised if a four-lap average would have some 225s in it. Maybe if guys really get it going and the weather is right, you could see a four-lap average in the 225s.
"Certainly the game keeps raising, and we’re trying to move with that."
With drivers such as Robby Gordon, Scott Goodyear and Arie Luyendyk joining Indy Racing Northern Light Series teams in May and CART regulars Michael Andretti, Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves competing at Indy, the level of competition has indeed increased. Throw in strong IRNLS competitors such as Atlanta winner Greg Ray, points leader Sam Hornish Jr. and surprising rookie Felipe Giaffone, and this year’s Indianapolis 500 could shape up to be one of the most competitive events of the last decade or more.
Sharp is confident, though, that he has the right stuff to keep his team in the mix.
"The Dallara’s doing well," he said. "I think it’s the car to have. It’s the car that’s won the first three races this year. It’s certainly become the most popular car to have."
Practice for the Indianapolis 500 takes place from 2 to 7 p.m. ET on Sunday and from noon to 7 p.m. ET during the week.