There’s Arie Luyendyk and Scott Brayton, and then there’s everybody else.
Paul Tracy, the fastest among the also-rans, concedes the battle for the pole on Saturday may be all but over, but the Indianapolis 500 on May 28 is still fair game.
“I wouldn’t say we’re out of range. I’m not giving up,” Tracy said. “I’ve been in the position that they’re in with the motor they have. It’s nice to have, but race day is really what counts.”
A year ago, Tracy was part of the Team Penske brigade that dominated Indianapolis with a specially designed Mercedes engine and finished 1-2-3 in the IndyCar season points. Penske kept Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi this year, and Tracy joined Michael Andretti with the Newman-Haas team.
“For me, I just want to qualify well and be in the first couple rows,” Tracy said. “I think on race day things will sort themselves out. Right now, we have a shot at being on the front row, as good a shot as anybody out there.”
Luyendyk set an unofficial track record with a lap at 234.107 mph on Monday. Brayton, his Team Menard comrade, has a top speed of 232.859. Both drivers are using Menard V6s, modified Buick engines that are used only at Indianapolis and are allowed extra boost from the turbocharger because of their stock-block design.
The only other drivers above 230 since practice began last Saturday are Tracy, whose top speed is 231.315, and Teo Fabi, who joined the exclusive club on Tuesday at 230.716. On Wednesday, Luyendyk led a rainshortened session with a lap at 232.468 and Tracy was second-fastest at 229.926. Robby Gordon and Brayton were the only others above 229.
The first crash since the track opened last Saturday sent rookie Davey Hamilton to the Methodist Hospital with a slight concussion and contusions to the left knee. He was admitted to the hospital overnight for observation.
“This was not his fault,” said Lee Kunzman, the team manager for Hemelgarn Racing, which owns the car Hamilton was driving. “It was not a driver error… . Something in the right rear went wrong.”
The car of the Boise driver went into a three-quarters spin and into the wall in the fourth turn. He went along the wall 320 feet, made another half-spin and slid backwards 540 feet across the track, stopping at the entrance to the pits.
Tracy, eighth in the IndyCar standings, won the season’s second race.
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