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Rain postpones Indy pole qualifying

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS Scott Dixon was primed and ready for Indianapolis 500 pole qualifying Saturday when the rain started falling.

The Indy rookie turned a lap of 233.236 mph in an abbreviated practice halted by the wet weather that eventually forced postponement of the opening round of time trials until Sunday.

That sizzling lap in cool, still, almost perfect conditions was the fastest on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 2 1/2-mile oval since Arie Luyendyk hit the unofficial record of 239.260 in practice in 1996, the last year the Indy Racing League allowed turbocharged engines.

Our car was pretty good by itself,'' said the unflappable 22-year-old from New Zealand. We ran about a 232 by ourselves out there, but that lap toward the end got a tow from another car.''

Dixon, driving a Toyota-powered G Force for Chip Ganassi Racing, went above 230 for the first time Tuesday, his third day at the track, and he's been among the speed leaders since.

The fast lap on Saturday definitely made Dixon, who won the season opener in Homestead, Fla., in his IRL debut, one of the favorites to win the pole for the May 25 race.

Now is the time, at the end of the week, to show your hand,'' he said.

Others were doing the same.

Robby Gordon was close behind Dixon at 232.959, followed by Tony Kanaan at 231.961, rookie Dan Wheldon at 231.955, Gil de Ferran at 231.288, 1999 race winner Kenny Brack at 231.258 and two-time defending Indy champion Helio Castroneves at 231.194.

In all, 10 drivers topped 230 in the hourlong practice.

It's really close,'' Kanaan said. Whoever gets the best (track) condition and the right car for the condition tomorrow will be on the pole. We do have a lot of people who are capable to do it.

It's going to be tight. You're looking for hundredths of a second.''

Drivers get up to three tries in the same car to complete a four-lap, 10-mile qualifying run. The average speed determines starting position.

Those who don't make it in the first round will get another chance next Sunday in the final round of time trials.

Weather probably will play a big part in Sunday's results. Temperatures are expected to drop into the 60s, a considerable change from the high 70s and low 80s the driver have seen since practice opened last Sunday.

Predicted gusty winds could cause problems for the 1,550-pound Indy cars.

Add to that the rain washing off most of the rubber laid down on the track during the week guaranteeing slippery conditions getting four consistently fast laps could pose some real problems.

We've had plenty of good and bad weather all week,'' Kanaan said.

The track's going to be green, it's going to be windy. ... Nobody knows what's going to happen, so I think everybody is in the same boat.''

Former IRL champion Greg Ray, who has started from the pole once and the middle of the front row three times in six races here, ran 229.330 Saturday. That was good only for 11th-fastest, but Ray was encouraged.

I think we're capable of running in the 230 range, if the weather is right,'' he said. The wind, the sun, everything changes. For one lap, you can make the car a little quicker, but for 16 corners it seems like a long time sometimes.''

The short practice Saturday ended as speedway workers were cleaning up after a wreck in which six-time Indy starter Billy Boat slid into a padded barrier at the end of the wall separating the track from pit lane.

Boat was sore but uninjured after the car caromed off the barrier, went airborne long enough to spin completely around, then landed on its tires and slid into the outside wall.

It was the fourth crash since practice began.

Two-time Indy winner Luyendyk, who hit the wall Friday, was cleared to drive Saturday by Speedway medical director Dr. Henry Bock.

Driving his backup car, Luyendyk got in only one warmup lap before Boat's crash.

I have a stiff neck and I feel really sore between my shoulder blades, but I'm surprised I don't feel worse than I did last night,'' said Luyendyk, at 49 the oldest driver entered here. I guess my body heals quick.''



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