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McGehee a Spectator at Carburetion Day

May 23, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Thirty-two of the 33 cars in Sunday's 87th annual Indianapolis 500 took their final laps, had their final tweaking and had their engines checked Thursday during what is called Carburetion Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Only Robby McGehee, who had had only 18 laps on the track this month, did not roll his car out during the two-hour practice. From now until the race starts at 9 a.m. PDT Sunday, no wheels will turn on the track.

"Frankly, we haven't gotten everything together in terms of crew," said McGehee, who was a last-minute choice to drive Panther Racing's Pedigo Chevrolet. "I was sitting home in St. Louis last Thursday when I got a call from John Barnes [Panther Racing owner] to come and try to qualify, so we haven't had much chance to get organized.

"I've got our race engine sitting on the dyno right now. It will probably be installed tomorrow morning. We don't have a full crew together, but the team is working really hard to get it together, and we'll be really strong and ready to go on Sunday."

McGehee, 29, has driven in three Indy 500s and finished fifth in 1999, earning rookie of the year honors. A University of Mississippi graduate, McGehee first attracted attention when he and his mother, Janet, attended Skip Barber Racing School together when Robby was 16.

"If this was any other team than Pennzoil Panther Racing, I don't know if it could have happened that I could qualify with so little time in the car. I talked with both Sam [Hornish Jr.] and Billy [Boat] and they were helpful. Obviously their setups were on the car. It's just amazing I'm here. We actually came to Indy on Friday night, watched it rain Saturday and got in the race Sunday. It's been remarkable."

On a sunny day when most of the teams were running race setups, 1999 winner Kenny Brack had the fastest lap, 228.707 mph, in one of Bobby Rahal's Honda-powered Dallaras. His speed was nearly a mile faster than that of Robby Gordon, who reached 227.850 in Andretti Green Racing's Honda-Dallara before leaving for Charlotte to qualify for the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600, which will be run Sunday night.

"I think we have a pretty good race car," said Brack, who followed practice by entertaining fans with his rock band, the Subwoofers, in the infield. "But in three days, between now and Sunday, a lot of things change with the track and the weather. You have to be ready to adjust your car with the conditions.

"In the race, everything has to go your way to reach the winner's circle. You definitely need a little luck throughout the day plus good pit stops, a good strategy and a strong race car. I think we can produce most of those things on Sunday."

The fastest Toyota-powered driver was Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske, with a 227.812-mph lap. Jaques Lazier, 14th fastest overall, was No. 1 among the Chevrolets. He ran 225.437 in John Menard's Dallara.

Richie Hearn, like McGehee a last-minute qualifier, was the busiest driver on the track, logging 54 laps with a top speed of 223.968. Hearn got his chance when Penske offered to lease a car to Sam Schmidt for the race and Schmidt, the paraplegic former driver, selected Hearn to drive it.

"Today was pretty busy," said Hearn, 32, who finished third here in 1996. "We worked on running in traffic, running old tires, adjusting the car while we were out there, working on fuel mileage, doing pit stops, trying to get in and out of the pits fast. I had to cram a lot of things into two hours."

No one else ran more than 29 laps.

Rookie driver Buddy Rice and Eddie Cheever's Red Bull Racing crew won the Checkers/Rally's Pit Stop Challenge by defeating Helio Castroneves and Penske's crew. It was worth $30,000 to the winning crew, which changed four tires and fueled the car in 8.84 seconds to 9.13 for the losers.

The winner of the pit contest has gone on to win the 500 four times, Bobby Unser in 1981, Danny Sullivan in 1985 and Castroneves last year, all with Penske, and Jacques Villeneuve in 1995 with Team Green.

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