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LAST MINUTE DECISIONS COST TRACY AND HOWARD SPOTS IN THE INDY 500
Photo by Brady Whitesel, BroncosPitstop.com
Photo by Brady Whitesel, BroncosPitstop.com
May 23rd 2010 - By:  Mark W. Theisen

     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA MAY23, 2010:    The new two day qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500 could not have worked out better as on Saturday the drama was manufactured in the form of a top nine “shootout” and today the drama was man made and the highs and lows of bump day played out in a fashion not seen in many years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
      The “Bump Day” drama got under way shortly after the track opened for practice at nine a.m. this morning when Tony Kanaan, practicing in a car rebuilt after a crash yesterday, crashed once again in the first turn and as yesterday backed into the Safer barrier severely damaging the rear of his car. Once again his Andretti Racing Team crew was faced with the task of rebuilding the car and then went at it right away knowing the time restraints of the day.
     Shortly after the morning practice session A.J. Foyt Racing announced that the grandson of team owner A.J. Foyt, A.J. Foyt IV will be replaced in the car for the rest of the day by veteran Jacques Lazier.  The senior Foyt stated that Foyt IV was uncomfortable in the car and when a driver is not feeling right, the situation is not right and the switch was made.  Foyt said the switch was for the rest of the month of May and if Lazier were to qualify the car, he would drive it in the race.
     When the track opened for qualifications at noon the Kanaan car was far from ready as the remaining nine spots in the race were up for grabs and a new wrinkle was added for the participants in the form of soaring temperatures forecasted during the day, temperatures that were not experienced since the track opened for practice last Saturday.
     With that in mind the field for the 94th running of the 500 was filled within the first 50 minutes of qualifying.  John Andretti, 224.518; Sarah Fisher, 224.434; Vitor Meira, 224.389; Alex Lloyd, 224.783; Sebastian Saavedra, 223.634; Takuma Sato, 221.662; Bruno Junqueira, 225.662; Paul Tracy, 223.982 and Mario Romancini, 223.805 completed the provisional line-up for the race.  Jay Howard came out and averaged 223.824 to bump Sato from the race as track temperatures soared above 120 degrees.
     The drive by Junqueira today is one that will go down in the legends of the 500.  Hired by FAZZT racing to help tutor Alex Tagliani, Junqueira was told that once Tagliani was in the race he would be given an opportunity to drive the team’s backup car and that came after the crew worked all Saturday night to ready the car.  Just 6 laps into the morning practice the car experienced gearbox problems and was taken back to the garage for repairs.  Undaunted by all this, when the time came, Junqueira posted the fastest speed for the day and will start the race on the inside of row nine, this despite the few practice laps is a credit to Junqueira’s expertise when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
     Once Howard had completed the race and with no other cars in line the track was opened for practice and all of the qualified cars from yesterday took advantage of the heat to run with a full load of fuel under conditions that they will most likely experience during the race next Sunday as the heat and humidity is expected to stay now that it is in Indianapolis.
     Helio Castroneves, yesterday’s pole winner, was also today’s class of the open practice session posting laps in excess of 223 miles-per-hour clearly establishing him as the odds on favorite for the race next Sunday.  This open session will be the next to the last session before the race as the track will only be open on Friday for a two-hour session as the final preparation period for the race.
     As the clock wound down Kanaan returned to the track just after three o’clock to begin shaking down his repaired car to try and find the speed necessary to make the race.
     Lazier, after just 27 laps in Foyt’s car, presented his car for qualifying at 4:00 P.M. but after two slow laps he pulled off and did not post a speed.  Shortly after Lazier’s attempt Saavedra crashed his car in the second turn and complaining of back pains, was taken to Methodist Hospital for X-rays.
     At 5:24 the most stressful 36 minutes in memory at the track began to unfold, happenings that even veterans, like myself, have not seen in many years here.
     Kanaan took his Andretti Racing Team car to the track and averaged 224.072 to bump Saavedra from the race and this would begin and extreme series of events for Saavedra’s Bryan Herta Autosports Team.
     Lazier took his second of three allotted attempts next but could not find the speed to bump his way into the race over  the slowest car at the time, Mario Romancini.
     Then the first of three critical decisions that were made before the end of that day was made.  Romancini, faced with being bumped from the race, withdrew his speed of 223.805 in hopes of doing better.  He did that in his Conquest Racing Team prepared car doing much better than he had all weekend long, averaging 224.641 to again bump Saavedra from the race.
     Milka Duno made her second attempt of the day to try and become the fifth female driver to make this year’s race, but as was her attempt this morning she could not find the speed necessary to make the race.
     Formula One veteran Takuma Sato, who had crashed earlier in the week and who was unable to find the speed in the rebuilt car yesterday and today found that speed when he needed it the most as he averaged 224.178 to bump Howard from the race.
     Howard then right back out but could not muscle the speed he needed to get back into the race.  His average of 223.610 was just not fast enough.
      Then the second of the three gambles was made with Tracy’s KVRT team withdrawing there bubble sitting speed of 223.982 to try and post a better speed and solidify their spot in the race.  This withdrawal put Howard back in the race and this time, unlike Romancini’s, the results backfired as Tracy’s car was extremely loose and scrubbed the wall on the first lap and was way off the necessary speed and now found himself out of the race but their was still time remaining before the end of the session.
     Lazier and Duno then took the track but each attempt resulted in an aborted effort and that left Sarah Fisher Racing with a decision to make,  Howard was next in line with Tracy right behind with minutes left in the session.  Do they pull their car out of the line and gamble that Tracy can beat them or do they withdraw their speed and try and do better.
     The latter decision was made and this allowed Saavedra to get back into the race and when Howard could not find the speed to gain his was back into the field it was Saavedra, sitting in a hospital room at Methodist, with the final spot in the race and dejection amok in the KVRT and Fisher Racing teams.
     A puzzled and disappointed Tracy said would not question the team’s decision.  “We had a quick car when temperatures were cold all month long,” said Tracy.  “However, it was just the opposite when the temperatures went up and the car just would not handle when we needed it to.  At times we were spot on and others we were way off and in the end we could not do it.  It is a bitter disappointment for me to not be in the biggest race of the year and even bigger for the team and their sponsors”
     Kanaan could not give any more credit possible to his team.  “Never, not even once, did they get down,” said Kanaan after experiencing the most stress he has ever had at a race track.  “They could have gotten down but no, they worked hard, they took pieces off of the other team cars that I needed and got me on the track, not once but twice.  They are the hero’s.  They deserve all the credit.  Tomorrow they will replace all the borrowed parts and fix the ones I destroyed but they will have me ready by Friday and for the race and that is all that I can ask for.”
    Bryan Herta said had not heard from Methodist as to the condition of Saavedra but fully expects him to be ready for the race next week, if he would not be able to go the spot would then revert back to Howard but that is by far the longest shot possible for the Fisher Team.
     A dejected Fisher, who was elated earlier in the day by getting her own car into the 500 with the speeds she had not achieved all month long, sat head in hands as the reality of not having her second team car in the race.  “I can not put into words how I feel right now,” said Fisher trying to hold back tears.  “I honestly can’t believe this is happening.  There’s an issue here.  It’s no for a lack of trying.  It’s going to pretty detrimental for the rest of the year. I think it was the best decision (to pull Howard and retry) we had to make with everything Paul (Tracy) was doing.  It’s detrimental to our sponsors and our budget.  I don’t know what were going to do now.  We’re going to have to come up with a plan for the rest of the season.”
     The payout for just qualifying for the 500 can support a team for a year and that is the basis for Fisher’s remarks, the money that was expected for making and starting the race will not be available to use for the rest of the year.
     Fisher should not feel all the blame, what happened in the confusion of the final minutes we hard, as I wrote before, for even people who have experienced countless bump days, to figure out.
     Howard, Tracy, Lazier and Duno were the only drivers to make qualification attempts not to make the race.  Several other drivers were on hand this month at the Speedway but were unable to put together deals to get them into cars.
     The field average this year is 224.974, the fastest since 2002 when the average was 228.648 which was the fasted field in Indianapolis 500 history.  This years starting field is the closed matched by time in 500 history with just 3.0622 seconds separating Castroneves and Saavedra.  The previous record was set for last year’s race at 3.0967 and the fact that race teams have dealt with the same car and engine combinations for nearly eight years has something do to with the parity. Given the same car, engine and rules the teams, overtime, can close the gap on the competition and thus even the field and we have seen that the last two year.  It is exciting to watch, but given the closeness of the field, it can make for difficult passing come race day.
     Six rookies made the race:  Sato, Saavedra, Romancini joined yesterday’s rookie qualifiers: Ana Beatriz, Bertrand Baguette and Simona de Silvestro with Howard being the only rookie of this year’s class of seven to not make the race.  Romancini was the top qualifier among the rookies with his late day strategy today.
     Four of the five women drivers made the show, with only Duno, a veteran of last year’s 500, unable to find the speed necessary to make the show.  Beatriz, de Silvestro are joined by Fisher and Danica Patrick in the race.
     The stage is now set for next Sunday’s 94th running of the 500.  One more practice session of Friday is all that separates the teams from the race and will be their final tune u for next week.
    For now the drivers all head to New York City for a promotional tour that not only promotes the race and their sponsors but the fact that tickets still remain for next Sunday’s classis.

*EOS