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INDIANAPOLIS 500 : Ribbs Can't Burst Bubble of Foyt, Herta

May 23, 1994|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

INDIANAPOLIS — A.J. Foyt, who knew how to gamble and win as a driver at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, took a big gamble Sunday as a car owner and won.

Foyt's driver, rookie Bryan Herta of Los Angeles, was on the bubble as the slowest qualifier among the 33 cars for next Sunday's Indianapolis 500 when the clock neared closing time of 6 p.m. If another car bumped him, there wasn't enough time to get back in line for another attempt. If Foyt chose to withdraw the car, Herta would have to run faster than 221 m.p.h. in his backup car

"I rolled the dice," Foyt said.

The four-time winner turned car owner elected to sit on Herta's time and dared Willy T. Ribbs--the only driver with time remaining to make a qualifying attempt--to beat Herta's speed of 220.992 m.p.h.

"I knew Willy had not been in that car, and I knew he'd been having trouble all month getting speed up, so we just kind of gambled," Foyt said. "I knew that No. 9 car had been running awful fast, but I knew it wasn't Willy driving."

Ribbs, who had failed to qualify in his own car last Sunday, climbed into teammate Robby Gordon's backup Lola-Ford Cosworth, but could get it up to only 216 m.p.h. Gordon had practiced at 222.916 earlier in the day.

"It was a long shot, but I was unfamiliar with the car," Ribbs said. "We had everything to gain and nothing to lose."

Bright sunshine and 89-degree temperatures, the worst enemy of horsepower, allowed only one driver, rookie Marco Greco of Brazil, to break into the field on the final day of time trials.

Greco became the sixth of Dick Simon's stable of drivers to qualify. Earlier, Simon put Raul Boesel, Lyn St. James, Hiro Matsushita and rookies Dennis Vitolo and Hideshi Matsuda in the field.

Greco's 221.216 m.p.h. bumped Scott Goodyear.

After no one tried to qualify from a noon track opening until 5:30 p.m., Greco took a chance. When he finished his four laps, Goodyear was out and Herta on the bubble, sitting in line in case he needed to drive the No. 41 backup car.

One by one, Geoff Brabham, Mark Smith and Gary Bettenhausen failed. Brabham started off with a 221 m.p.h. lap, but steadily got slower. Smith brushed the wall in the first turn of his first lap and slid backward through the short chute.

Bettenhausen, a hometown favorite who grew up in nearby Monrovia, brought a moan from the huge crowd when he could squeeze only 218 out of his year-old Penske-Ilmor.

As the crew's yellow flag waved off Bettenhausen after two laps, Foyt told chief steward Tom Binford that he was pushing Herta's car out of the line.

"With all the commotion going on out there, you'd have thought we were on the pole," Herta said. "I guess I'd rather be the slowest qualifier than the fastest non-qualifier. I never really wish anything bad on anyone, but while Willy T. was making his run I hoped he wouldn't go over 200."

Didier Theys was in line as the gun sounded.

"Bryan was cool. I can't say enough about how he handled as rough a situation as you can find here," Foyt said.

The Lineup

Driver Residence/Country No. ROW 1 1. Al Unser Jr. Albuquerque, N.M. 31 2. Raul Boesel Brazil 5 3. Emerson Fittipaldi Brazil 2 ROW 2 4. r-Jacques Villeneuve Canada 12 5. Michael Andretti Nazareth, Pa. 8 6. Lyn St. James Daytona Beach, Fla. 90 ROW 3 7. Nigel Mansell England 1 8. Arie Luyendyk Netherlands 28 9. Mario Andretti Nazareth, Pa. 6 ROW 4 10. John Andretti Indianapolis 33 11. Eddie Cheever Aspen, Colo. 27 12. Dominic Dobson Truckee, Calif. 17 ROW 5 13. Stan Fox Janesville, Wis. 91 14. r-Hideshi Matsuda Japan 99 15. r-Dennis Vitolo Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. 79 ROW 6 16. Jimmy Vasser Discovery Bay, Calif. 18 17. r-Scott Sharp East Norwalk, Conn. 71 18. Hiro Matsushita Japan 22 ROW 7 19. Robby Gordon Orange 9 20. Roberto Guerrero San Juan Capistrano 21 21. r-Brian Till Columbus, Ohio 19 ROW 8 22. r-Bryan Herta Dublin, Ohio 14 23. Scott Brayton Coldwater, Mich. 59 24. Teo Fabi Italy 11 ROW 9 25. Paul Tracy Canada 3 26. r-Adrian Fernandez Mexico 7 27. Stefan Johansson Sweden 16 ROW 10 28. Bobby Rahal Hilliard, Ohio 4 29. Davy Jones Lake Tahoe, Nev. 40T 30. r-Mauricio Gugelmin Brazil 88 ROW 11 31. John Paul Jr. Lantana, Fla. 45 32. Mike Groff Worthington, Ohio 10 33. r-Marco Greco Brazil 25

Field average: 223.270 (record 223.479, 1992)

r--rookie

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