Drivers searching for Indy spots lose critical day
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- Frustration wasn't hard to find in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Friday as rain washed out a full day of practice.
Those precious hours of preparation for Sunday, the final day of qualifying for the May 27 Indy 500, were important for more than a dozen drivers still hoping to earn a starting spot in the 33-car field.
"We've had so many problems that it's hard to believe," said Memo Gidley, who tried without success to make the race last year with an underfinanced team and old, tired equipment.
This time, the equipment is new and the Brayton Engineering team, while not one of the big money groups, has sufficient funds. The problem is things keep breaking, and Gidley has not yet found the speed to make it into the show.
"I can't believe how many times I've heard over the last couple of days, 'Man, I've never seen that before,' about something that broke," said Donnie Graves, Gidley's manager. "Yesterday, it was the master cylinder in the clutch, which is something that never breaks."
Gidley, who was a supersub last year in CART, filling in for several injured drivers and doing a solid relief job, found himself with no full-time ride again this year.
Just making it into the 33-car field at Indy would be a major accomplishment for the 30-year-old rookie.
"This has always been one of my goals," Gidley said. "It would be special to be in the field, but just getting into this race is a big hurdle."
Steve Knapp, another Brayton Engineering driver trying to make the lineup, is a three-time Indy starter. Unlike Gidley, Knapp is confident his car can make the race Sunday.
"We got only 12 laps in [Wednesday], four at speed," Knapp said. "We got enough to get some direction, but you can't do much with the car in the garage.
"I think the bump speed will be 221.4. I've been driving Memo's car, trying to help him, too."
Thirty-two drivers qualified last weekend for the tentative lineup. Once the field is full Sunday, the slowest qualifiers can be bumped out of the lineup until the end of the six-hour session.
Roberto Guerrero, a 15-time Indy starter, currently is the slowest qualifier at 220.054, with three other drivers also in the tentative field under 221.
Practice also was scheduled Saturday, with the forecast calling for partly sunny skies and highs in the mid-70s.
"The rain only sets us back a little," said former Indy pole-winner Billy Boat, who also was among the non-qualified drivers. "We still feel we've got a good baseline, but we need to work a little more and make sure the consistency is there."
Eliseo Salazar, who drives for A.J. Foyt, a four-time winner here as a driver and the winning owner in 1999 -- with Kenny Brack -- also was confident, despite two crashes last week in practice and a blown engine on the last turn of what would have been a qualifying run over 223 last Sunday.
"We have the speed, we just need 15 to 20 laps to put the qualifying speed together," Salazar said. "We can do it tomorrow or even Sunday morning. This just keeps the other guys from getting up to speed."
Foyt, who already has Robby Gordon qualified on the outside of the front three-car row, said, "We're preparing two cars for Eliseo for qualifying. If he gets the primary car in the race without any problems, we'll put Donnie Beechler in the backup car and try to qualify him, too. But my main concern is to get Eliseo in the race."
Among the other drivers trying to get up to qualifying speed by Sunday are Indy veterans Raul Boesel, Robby McGehee, Jimmy Kite, John Paul Jr., Jim Guthrie and Stan Wattles, as well as rookies Casey Mears and Cory Witherill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.