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At This Indy 500, Drivers Needed

Hearn, McGehee may get rides to fill out field. Only seven unqualified drivers practice Friday.

May 17, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Concern that next Sunday's Indianapolis 500 might go without its traditional 33 starters grew Friday when only seven unqualified drivers took practice laps. Only 24 cars have qualified, meaning there are nine positions remaining to be filled Sunday, the final day of time trials.

There is a good chance, however, that Robby Hearn and Robby McGehee, both 500 veterans, will be offered rides to fill the field to its usual number.

Two unqualified drivers, Jimmy Vasser and rookie Vitor Meira, were among the fastest of 26 drivers on the track. Vasser, who missed the first weekend of qualifying while driving in Germany with CART, reached 228.975 mph in Bobby Rahal's Dallara-Honda. Meira topped out at 227.918 in Team Menard's Chevrolet-powered Dallara.

"We made some very good gains today," said Vasser, a veteran of seven 500s. "The race car feels very good. We were 227 in race trim. [Teammate] Kenny [Brack] and his crew have done a very good job getting the car ready for me.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Auto racing -- Driver Richie Hearn was misidentified as Robby Hearn in a Sports article on the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday.

"Now we'll go and get ready for qualifying on Sunday. I'm pretty pumped up right now. I think we have a real shot at winning."

Meira, a Brazilian who drove four races last year, did not practice last week and indicated he still wasn't sure what he would do.

"I was getting comfortable, trying to make no mistakes," he said. "By the end of the day yesterday, I was told I would drive today. I'm glad I didn't make any mistakes. I'm looking forward, even though I don't know what I'm going to be doing.

"The plan is no plan. People are going to tell me what to do, and anything they tell me to do, I'm going to try and do."

His speed made Meira the fourth-fastest of those in Chevrolet-powered cars. Two-time Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. is the fastest, with a 229.050 last Saturday. However, it is only the 20th best of the month as Honda and Toyota have dominated practice and qualifying.

As has been the case most of the month, rookies Scott Dixon of New Zealand and Tora Takagi of Japan were the fastest of the day. Dixon, in Chip Ganassi's G Force-Toyota, was fastest at 229.966, and Takagi was next at 228.657 in Mo Nunn's G Force-Toyota.

A.J. Foyt IV, youngest driver in the race at 18, crashed his qualified car, damaging the right rear extensively. Foyt was unhurt. If the car can be repaired in time for the race May 25, he will start in his qualified spot, No. 23. If he has to switch to a backup car, he will start at the rear of the field.

The car did a quarter-spin to the left in Turn 1 and hit the safety barrier on the outside retaining wall. After making contact, the car did a couple of half-spins while sliding down the short chute between Turns 1 and 2.

"I made a stupid mistake and went into Turn 1 too low," said a contrite Foyt. "I just made a stupid mistake."

Said Granddad A.J., the team owner and a four-time winner here in his driving days, "When I first saw it happened and I saw he was OK, I got on him pretty hard. Then when I came back to the garage and saw the setup sheet, there was so much nose weight on the front end that there was no way he couldn't have wrecked. I apologized to him because it was a mistake on the crew's part and mine for not catching it.

"I feel bad for him because the three accidents here this month were not his fault. One was caused by a cut tire, the qualifying spin was caused by a bolt that had backed out and the windy conditions, and now this. I'm just thankful he's been able to walk away from them all."

*

Ed Carpenter, stepson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George, took the pole for the inaugural Freedom 100, an Infiniti Pro Series race. In a car owned by the senior Foyt, Carpenter completed a lap at 188.490 mph.

Today's race will be the first support race for the Indianapolis 500 in 87 years.

Mark Taylor, an English driver who has won both Infiniti Pro Series races this year, will start next to Carpenter with a 188.062 speed.

Three former 500 drivers -- Cory Witherill, Scott Harrington and Billy Roe -- qualified for the race.

The series, which debuted last year, is designed to develop young drivers for future Indy Racing League competition.

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