Under the gun
Troubled season worse for Gregoire at Indy
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com)-- Stephan Gregoire is confused, frustrated and in danger of failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
The problems began for the five-time Indy starter and last year's eighth-place finisher in the Indy Racing League season-opener in Phoenix.
"I qualified fourth and was leading the race," Gregoire said. "I could have won. Unfortunately, I crashed. Ever since Phoenix, I've had a problem."
Gregoire, a Frenchman who turned 32 on Monday, went out of the race in Homestead, Fla., after just 69 of 200 laps, then had similar difficulties after 95 of 200 laps in Atlanta. In both cases, he parked the car because it didn't feel right.
"In Homestead, I had to stop the race because the car just wasn't handling," Gregoire said. "In Atlanta, it was worse."
Coming to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gregoire said he felt a lot of uncertainty, an emotion that should never be riding with someone trying to qualify a race car at speeds above 220 mph on a demanding 2.5-mile oval.
"I couldn't trust my car," he said. "I was losing my confidence."
The situation became so bad that Gregoire went to team owner Dick Simon and told him he should look for another driver to get his car into the 500-mile race.
"I've put lots of drivers into the 500 over the years and I've never gone through this situation before," said Simon, who also drove in 17 Indy races. "It's like his head is not in his body right now."
Simon didn't want to give up on Gregoire.
"He's been a great driver and person to work with and I felt like we could get through this together," the owner said.
Simon called on 15-race veteran Roberto Guerrero, without a ride this season, to help get the team's new Oldsmobile-powered Dallara up to speed. No money changed hands, Simon said, but he did promise Guerrero a ride in the team's backup if he could help get the other car into the show.
Guerrero got the Dallara up to speed in a hurry, helping the team solve a nagging handling problem. Gregoire then got into the car in the heat of the day -- the toughest time to find speed -- and nearly matched Guerrero's 219.9 mph lap of a few minutes earlier.
"But Stephan came in after one more lap and said, 'Dick, I'm just too nervous. Let Roberto qualify the car,'" Simon said. "I told Roberto, 'Let's get it in quick and work on Stephan's setup in the other car.'"
Of the 32 drivers who qualified on the opening weekend of time trials, Guerrero's 220.054 is the slowest and is very likely to be bumped by faster cars in Sunday's final day of qualifying for the 33-car field.
If Gregoire can't get the G Force -- the same car he ran here last year -- up to speed, there is no other car for him. If Gregoire does get the G Force into the race, and Guerrero is bumped, there is no other car for Guerrero, a two-time Indy runner-up.
"We don't have any money and only a small sponsorship from Yellow Freight, and Roberto doesn't have any money," Simon said.
"The way I look at it," said the 41-year-old Guerrero, "I got a couple of days in a race car and I don't have anything else going. At least it put my name out there again and showed people I can still drive a race car."
Gregoire said he really appreciates what Guerrero has done.
"He's a nice guy and has lots of experience, and he's fast," Gregoire said. "He deserves to start the race."
Gregoire is hoping that getting back into a familiar car can restore his confidence.
"I've just got to believe in the car and believe I can do it," he said. "I've never had anything like this happen before and I want to get through it and get in the race."
Practice resumed Wednesday after a two-day break, with 23 cars getting onto the track on a warm, humid day.
Greg Ray, who qualified in the middle of the front row after winning the pole a year ago, led the way with a lap of 222.266 in his qualified car and 221.085 in his backup. Shigeaki Hattori and Ayrton Dare followed in qualified cars at 220.639 and 220.369, respectively, while former pole-winner Billy Boat was the fastest of the non-qualified entries at 219.203.
Guerrero was eighth on the speed list at 218.215, while Gregoire made only a short appearance on the track early in the session and never got above 210.164.
Practice is scheduled to continue each day through Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.