Indy 500: Foyt bumps way into field
INDIANAPOLIS ó A.J. Foyt IV had already had a difficult day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ó and it was only half over.
The grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt began Sunday, the final day of qualifying for the 92nd edition of the Indy race, as a non-qualifier, needing to bump his way into the 33-car field.
The biggest obstacle was the howling wind, blowing at a steady 20 mph and also gusting at times at least 10 mph harder.
But Foyt, who tried twice on Saturday to qualify, persevered. Moments after the 2.5-mile oval was opened for qualifying at noon, the 23-year-old driver gritted his teeth and made a solid, four-lap qualifying run averaging 219.184 mph.
That was easily good enough to bump Marty Roth, the slowest of the first 33 qualifiers at 215.506, from the tentative field.
“It’s not easy,” Foyt said. “Each corner you have to approach a little bit differently. It is really tough, especially the speed you carry around here.
“This is the way it works around here, though. I’m just glad to get out there and put four laps in. We can get more out of it if we have to. We have to work on race setup but be ready to go if we have to qualify again.”
About 90 minutes later, Roth, a 49-year-old Canadian land developer and father of five, bounced back into the lineup with a four-lap run of 218.965 that knocked 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier’s 217.939 out of the field and left the 218.010 of Roger Yasukawa “on the bubble” as the slowest qualifying speed.
“We’re not focusing on a track record here, folks,” Roth said. “Just focusing on the bottom two rows where bumping is going to take place. We just have to play it safe. It’s just being responsible and not going crazy, crossing the line resulting in a crash and missing the show.”
After Roth’s run the track opened for practice and Foyt was running laps when the cover to his fuel tank blew off, allowing fuel to pour out of the tank and catch on fire from the heat of the engine. Within seconds, the rear of Foyt’s Vision Racing entry was a ball of flame and his car backed hard into the outside wall.
The fire left Foyt, seeking his fifth Indy start, with a small burn on the back of his neck and singed hair. But he was cleared to drive as the team prepared a backup car, just in case.
Meanwhile, with about three hours remaining, Max Papis and Mario Dominguez, both of whom crashed in practice on Saturday, were trying to find enough speed in their rebuilt Dallara-Hondas to bump their way into the lineup for next Sunday’s race. By mid-afternoon, rookie Dominguez had braved the windy track for more than 50 laps with a top speed of 218.834 and Papis, trying for his third Indy start since 2002, had run 32 laps with a top speed of 214.549.
Lazier, hoping to get back into the lineup, was also on track and had gotten his speed up to 218.664.
Under the unique Indy qualifying format, each entry is allowed up to three qualifying attempts on each of the four scheduled days of time trials. If knocked out of the field, a driver with attempts left can bump his or her way back in until the 6 p.m. end of the session.
With so few qualifying attempts, there was plenty of track time for drivers solidly in the race.
Pole-winner Scott Dixon, who took the top spot at 226.366 on May 10, the opening day of qualifying, was fastest again Sunday at 221.514, with Tteammate Dan Wheldon, the second fastest on pole day, also the runner-up Sunday at 220.653. Rookie Graham Rahal was next at 220.627.