Inotes:/I Mcgehee Meets Soft Wall

Though a dubious one no doubt, Robby McGehee had the honor of being the first driver to get a close-up look at the new soft wall SAFER barrier at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

McGehee suffered small fractures in his upper spine and lower left leg in an accident during practice May 5 at Indy, said Dr. Henry Bock, IRL director of medical services.

McGehee was released early Monday from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and will undergo further evaluation in the next few days, Bock said. McGehee is on crutches and is wearing a soft cast on his left leg. He has not been cleared to continue practice.

The St. Louis native and 1999 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year became the first driver to hit the new SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, making contact in Turn 3 at 4:36 p.m. McGehee spun entering Turn 3 of the 2.5-mile oval, hit the SAFER barrier with the rear of the No. 10 Cahill Racing Dallara/Chevrolet and then continued into the barrier with the right side of the car before coming to rest on the grass strip between the track and the warm-up lane between Turns 3 and 4. The car suffered heavy damage to the rear and right side.

“It's a shame,” McGehee said. “I'm sore as hell, but I'll be fine. It hit backward and then flipped on its right side. They say I was in the air, but I can't remember that because it all happened so fast. The fact that I hit the wall that hard, and I don't have a head injury is a testament that the SAFER wall worked.

"I think I would have had a head injury, for sure, without it. I didn't want to be the test guinea pig for the new wall barrier; I was joking about that yesterday, but here we are."

The SAFER system performed as expected and provided enhanced safety for McGehee, said Brian Barnhart, Indy Racing League vice president of operations.

"We were anxious to get the wall up for a real-world atmosphere and a real-world test," Barnhart said. "I certainly think one thing that happened today is that we tested on the high-extreme end right away because that was an enormous impact by Robby (McGehee). He was running at speed, 218, 219 mph. Just with the angle of impact, it was a very big impact.

"We are still trying to analyze the data, but I would say first-hand first analysis of the wall, we are very encouraged by what we saw out there. Robby never lost consciousness out there."

"Based on what we've seen, the wall behaved in a very, very encouraging manner. We really like what we see. As I said, Robby never lost consciousness. The car did not snag along the wall. It slid along. It didn't have a rebound angle. The wall did not become detached. The foam performed flawlessly behind."

b>Kelley Crew Sharpest on Opening Day
Scott Sharp showed the speed that helped him win the MBNA Pole for the 2001 Indianapolis 500 by leading the opening day of practice for the 86th Indianapolis 500 with a lap of 39.5481 seconds, 227.571 mph on May 5 in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet.

Sharp's speed was more than 1.5 mph faster than his four-lap average of 226.037 that delivered him the MBNA Pole last year at Indy.

"Coming in here for me was more of a concern of picking up where we left off with the testing, and making sure the team's running on all cylinders, which it obviously is," Sharp said. "And it's great having Al (Unser Jr.) right there with me. We're working very well - everybody on the team, engineers and drivers. It's pleasing, but there's still so much time."

Defending race champion Helio Castroneves was second at 39.5764, 227.408 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. Sharp's teammate, two-time winner Al Unser Jr., was third at 39.6677, 226.885 in the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet.

"We're trying just to start with a base setup," Castroneves said. "We're going to have a whole week until qualifying, a whole month until the race so we want to make sure that the car, the base setup is right there. It's not just out to lunch."

Bruno Junqueira was fourth fastest today at 39.6767, 226.833 in the No. 33 Target Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Chevrolet. 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. was fifth at 39.7572, 226.374 in the No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti. Cheever's backup car also was fast, as his best lap in that machine was 39.7736, 226.281.

In total, seven drivers and eight cars were faster than Sharp's four-lap average pole speed from last year.

Billy Boat, 1998 Indianapolis 500 pole winner, won the traditional race to be the first driver on the track when practice opened at 2:21 p.m. (EDT) under the green flag waved by Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson.

Thirty drivers in 39 cars combined to turn 1,006 laps Sunday at the Speedway. Practice resumes at noon (EDT) Monday.

Pole Day is Saturday, May 11, with second-day qualifying May 12 and Bump Day Sunday, May 19. The 86th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for noon (EDT) Sunday, May 26.

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