Carburetion Day: Sharp still the man to beat

Scott Sharp proved two weeks ago that he had the fastest qualifying set-up on Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500. And during Thursday's final practice session for Sunday's 85th Indy 500, Sharp showed that he may have the fastest set-up for race day, too.

Carburetion Day: Sharp still the man to beat

Sharp, who will start on the pole when he leads the field of 33 to the green flag at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ran a lap at 223.678 miles per hour in his Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora - the fastest lap in Thursday's Carburetion Day. The two-hour practice session was the final on-track activity before the race.

Gil de Ferran of Team Penske was second at 222.757 mph, followed by 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier's 222.392 mph, Greg Ray's 222.372 and Jeff Ward's 222.039 mph lap.

"Obviously, it's the last chance to run hard," Sharp said. "We wanted to confirm the race-starting set-up was strong out of the box. The car was real strong and we just didn't need to stay out and run any longer. That was probably the real advantage of running today. No one has had an opportunity to run in cool conditions. It gives you some data to be able to guess off for Sunday."

De Ferran's car no longer carries the Marlboro decals after the tobacco company yielded to Attorney Generals from various states, who strictly enforced a tobacco agreement that limits cigarette sponsorships to one auto racing series of choice. De Ferran is attempting to give team owner Roger Penske his 11th Indy 500 victory.

"Overall, I'm very happy with the car," de Ferran said. "It's handling very well. I'm very comfortable with where we are at. Now we just have to wait three days until the race. We know what we have, and we know what we have to do."

Lazier is the defending Indy Racing League champion and won this race in 1996, the first year it was part of the IRL. He has been rather quiet for most of the month, but has an outstanding record in this event since his victory five years ago.

"I felt the practice went quite well," Lazier said. "We ran a speed that we were able to get a good feel for, gear wise. It's a pretty fast day out there, faster than I thought it would be. We have a pretty good idea. At this stage we're not going to make too many changes. This is our race engine. We did a leak test to make sure there were no leaks and set-up verification."

Greg Ray will start in the middle of the front row. Only the pole winner has a faster ride than Ray's Dallara-Aurora.

"I think we're OK," Ray said. "We ran on full tanks and worn tyres. We were just trying to confirm the gear ratios. If it's like this on race day, I think we're OK. If it's a little cooler than this, we'll have to come back and make some adjustments."

Jeff Ward rounded out the top five after announcing that Aerosmith would be the primary sponsor of his G Force/Aurora.

"I'm really excited about this car," Ward said of the new pink and silver livery. "It looks good and it runs even better. We didn't get into any traffic today, but the car was really balanced, so traffic won't affect our performance. Today was a great practice. Our speed was good and consistent, which will be most important on race day."

The start of practice was delayed 15 minutes because of wet spots on the 2.5-mile race track because of early morning showers in the Indianapolis area. Sunny and cool conditions were present on Thursday. Thirty-five cars were eligible to participate in practice, although only 33 will start the race on Sunday. The other two - Shigeaki Hattori and Memo Gidley - are alternates, which means they will start the race if one of the other 33 is unable to start for whatever reason.

Cory Witherill had a loose oil fitting which caused his engine to smoke, but that problem was repaired. Jeret Schroeder had a problem with his gearbox when his car was stuck in sixth gear. Those were the only problems encountered in the practice session.

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