INDIANAPOLIS -- Arie Luyendyk led a surprising speed show Sunday that filled a record-setting field for the Indianapolis 500 before rain cut short the last day of qualifying.
Despite occasional showers that eventually ended the session 65 minutes early, the track conditions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were the best since practice resumed Wednesday.
Luyendyk, a two-time Indy winner, took advantage to post a four-lap average of 228.848 mph, the fastest of the day.
''The conditions were perfect and the car handled well,'' an obviously relieved Luyendyk said after taking the 24th spot in the 33-car field for the May 26 race.
In all, 11 cars completed 10-mile qualifying runs Sunday, with unusual circumstances making Billy Roe the first driver bumped from the Indy field twice in the same car since Jim McElreath in 1971.
With 32 of the 33 starting positions filled, the rookie gambled on the possibility that rain would wash out the rest of the day and get him into the race with a slow four-lap run of 212.283.
It didn't work, as fellow first-year Indy driver George Mack, only the second black competitor to race at Indy, bumped Roe out of the lineup minutes later with a 227.150.
Minutes later, Roe found himself back in the field after Michael Andretti, one of 24 drivers who qualified on May 11, the first of three scheduled days of time trials, decided his first-day speed of 226.780 was in jeopardy of being bumped.
''Guys we didn't expect to go quicker than our car were out there going a lot faster because the conditions were so good,'' said Andretti, the son of 1969 Indy winner Mario Andretti. ''We knew we had a pretty fast car, so we thought we had better go out and do it now.''
Andretti did, withdrawing his primary car and momentarily putting Roe back into the field before racing his backup Dallara around the 2 1/2-mile oval at 228.713 and sending Roe to the sidelines again.
The rest of the bump day drama was played out with everyone eyeing the sky and waiting to see if the rain that began pelting down moments later would end in time for more qualifying attempts.
It didn't, leaving Jimmy Kite waiting in line for a qualifying opportunity that never came.
Billy Boat was the main beneficiary of the early closing. His 226.589 from the opening day of qualifying was the slowest in the field, the third straight year that Boat has barely survived Indy Bump Day to start from the last of 11 three-car rows.
''It's unbelievable,'' said Boat, whose crew had quickly rebuilt his backup car after he crashed in the Sunday morning practice. ''Those guys did an incredible job getting the car back together. Thanks to Mother Nature, we didn't need to use it.''
Led by Bruno Junqueira's pole-winning speed of 231.342, the field average of 228.648 broke the previous mark of 227.807 set in 1996, the last year that turbocharged engines were allowed.
''I'd say the field is probably as strong as it's ever been,'' said Luyendyk, who holds the race and qualifying speed records here. ''You have to have your act together. It's becoming tougher and tougher because you really have to have everything organized.''
Light rain delayed the start of Sunday's session, but the action was furious and fast after the qualifying began.
Rain washed out the second round of qualifying on May 12 and cold, windy and sometimes wet conditions had marred practice during the ensuing week, frustrating the drivers still hoping to make the race.
Luyendyk didn't even bother practicing in Saturday's gusty winds and temperatures in the low 50s, but the Flying Dutchman showed things were going to be different Sunday when he led the rain-shortened morning practice with a lap over 229.
As qualifying finally began at 1:08 p.m., the air was calm, the skies overcast and the temperatures had warmed to the upper 50s.
The handful of big name drivers who had been struggling to find enough speed to qualify, rushed to take advantage, grabbing solid starting positions near the back of the field.
CART stars and Team Kool Green teammates Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy qualified at 228.177 and 228.006, respectively, while A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Airton Dare and Greg Ray posted runs of 227.760 and 227.155.
''We've had a big struggle the last few weeks, but we finally got the car right,'' Tracy said. ''We had a lot to learn, with new cars, new engines.''
Other solid qualifying runs turned in Sunday included Alex Barron at 228.580, Shigeaki Hattori at 228.192 and Mark Dismore at 227.096. Franchitti, Barron and Hattori are all Indy rookies and Dismore came back from a crash in the first week of practice that left him with a concussion.
Mack, who joins two-time starter Willy T. Ribbs as the only black drivers to make the field at Indy, said, ''It's not over yet; it's just overcoming one of the big hurdles. I can sleep tonight, so I'm feeling pretty good. ... I'm grateful to be here.''
Besides Kite, drivers who were hoping to get another chance to make the field included Oriol Servia, who aborted two attempts on Sunday, Foyt's third driver, Donnie Beechler and Memo Gidley, who had climbed into the car vacated by Johnny Herbert, who left Indy Sunday to race in a sports car race in California.
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us