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Indy BUMP DAY Notes from Mark
John Andretti - Team Richard Petty by Burzy
John Andretti - Team Richard Petty by Burzy
May 18th 2009 - Bump Day at Indianapolis Produces High Drama

By:  Mark W. Theisen

     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA MAY17, 2009:  For the first time in recent memory the four allotted days of qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 went to completion without one or more complete days being lost to rain and with that the excitement of the qualification procedure revision that went into effect four years ago produced the last minute drama it was intended to as the field was filled for the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 next Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

     The first 22 spots in the field of 33 were filled last weekend and when qualifying opened yesterday the final 11 slots were available for 14 drivers that were still fighting for a spot in the field for the “Greatest Spectacle in Auto Racing.”

     Mixed weather on Saturday made for a new set of strategies as slower than expected or even practiced speeds were accepted by the drivers as wind and lower track temperatures slowed the cars considerably from the practice speeds of earlier in the week.

     Rookie Robert Doornbos overcame the disappointment of two crashes that dashed his hopes of being a first weekend qualifier but the Dutchman posted a four lap average of 221.692 on the blustery day to lead the final 11 cars into the race.

     No one on Saturday bested the slowest average of the previous 22 qualifiers despite being faster at some point in the week so Davey Hamilton’s once precarious 221.956 of last Sunday now looks very safe for the race.

     Townsend Bell, Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani, Tomas Scheckter, Mike Conway, E.J. Viso, Ryan Hunter-Reay, John Andretti, Milka Duno and Nelson Phillipe completed the field for the race on Saturday to set the stage for Sunday “Bump” Day with Bruno Junqueira, Stanton Barrett and 1996 500 winner Buddy Lazier looking for the speed to make it into the race.

     Today’s weather was like the difference between night and day and with near ideal conditions, Scheckter, Conway, Viso, Philippe and Duno all withdrew their Saturday efforts and requalified their cars improving their speeds and locking themselves into the contest.

    The day turned into a series of “bumps” with nine drivers making 12 attempts with the final bump total at 7 with Tagliani, Barrett and Lazier being the odd drivers out after the tedious and grueling day.

    It was Andretti and Hunter-Reay that provided the last minute drama as first Andretti knocked out Hunter-Reay with less that 15 minutes remaining in the session only to have him come back and bump Tagliani out as the gun sounded to end the day and four action packed qualification day at the Speedway.  Tagliani was in line to try and get back in the race when the gun sounded.

     The field average for the 33 qualified cars is separated by just 3.0976 seconds from the fastest, Helio Castroneves at 224.864 to Hunter-Reay at 220.597 which is a record for being the closest-matched by time field in the history of the race.

     It was a bitter-sweet day for Lazier who saw his streak of being the only driver who had started every 500 under the sanction of the Indy Car Series since it’s inception in 1996.  “I’m just very disappointed,” said Lazier.  “We just didn’t maximize the opportunities of day, just didn’t have it!  We had it earlier but through miscommunication or what ever we lost our speed and our opportunity.  We’ll be back.  I love this place to much not to try and compete here.”

     Four rookie drivers made the field, Conway, Doornbos, Phillipe and Raphael Matos made this year’s race compared to 11 rookies that started the race last year.  Conway came back after a devastating crash last Sunday that sent him to the hospital with bruised lungs.  While Conway was in the hospital his crew rebuilt the race car that carried him into the starting field today.

     Seats still remain for the race set for next Sunday and with the field so tightly grouped by speed it looms to be one of the most exciting 500’s in recent years and well worth the effort to attend.