Friday notebook: Rain stops pre-'Bump' play

The first complete washout of Indianapolis 500 practice in four years has dampened the chances of some of the drivers who have yet to qualify for the May 27 race. With just one more day of practice scheduled before Sunday's 'Bump Day' - the final round of qualifications for the 85th Indianapolis 500 - those teams must get up to speed in a short time.

Friday notebook: Rain stops pre-'Bump' play

The last time no cars turned laps on a scheduled practice day due to rain was May 3, 1997. But while the rainout has raised the anxiety for some of the teams that are too slow to make the race, Eliseo Salazar and Billy Boat are confident they will make it into the field.

"We have the speed," said Salazar, one of the favourites for the front row before two crashes and two blown engines knocked his qualification attempt into the second weekend.

"We just need 15 to 20 laps to put the qualifying speed together. We can do it tomorrow or even Sunday morning. This just keeps the other guys from getting up to speed."

Boat, the 1998 pole winner when he was driving for Foyt, has been the fastest non-qualified driver in the last two days of practice in the CURB Records Dallara-Oldsmobile.

"We had an engine change scheduled for today anyway, so we hadn't really planned on going out to practice until later in the day," Boat said. "The rain only sets us back a little bit. We still feel we've got a pretty good baseline, but we need to work a little bit more tomorrow and make sure the consistency is there. Hopefully we'll have some good weather conditions so we can do a simulated qualifying run and be ready to go first thing on Sunday."

Cory Witherill was attempting to become the first Native American to make the Indianapolis 500 field in the modern era. The member of the Navajo Tribe has been unable to get near the 220 mile per hour barrier in the two weeks of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and time is running out on his chances.

"It's the same for everyone, so there's no difference to us," Witherill said. "We're confident we can make it. We'll let the rain go by, get a good run tomorrow and be ready for Sunday. It's been a good learning curve. Each day I go out, I learn more about the car. The track is difficult enough to learn by itself, but then you throw in a new type of car, and it's been quite an experience. If it were an Indy Lights car, I'd know what to do and what feedback to give. My programme was put together so quickly that it's been a tough, quick learning curve."

Steve Knapp was the 1998 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. This year he was part of a two-car effort, which also featured former CART driver Memo Gidley at Brayton Engineering. This is another team that hasn't found the speed necessary to make the race.

"I'm confident that the speed is in the car," Knapp said. "We got only 12 laps in yesterday, four at speed. We got enough to get some direction, but you can't do much with the car in the garage. We had an intermittent cut-out problem, though. We're going to replace the wiring harness. I think the bump speed will be 221.4. I've been driving Memo's (Gidley) car, trying to help him."

The driver who may benefit from the shortened week of practice is Greg Ray, who will start in the middle of the front row.

Ray tested under race day conditions with full tank runs last week, but was the only car on the track at the time. In an effort to see how the car handles in traffic, Ray needs other cars on the race track. He will get his wish on Saturday and Sunday, as the last practice days should be a traffic jam.

"Compared to some race weekends, we have an incredible amount of time here," Ray said. "But this is the Indy 500. We're working on race setup. We think we're one of the quickest cars out there. But just because the car is fast, it doesn't mean it's good in traffic. What makes our car fast isn't necessarily what makes it good in traffic.

"Last week we worked on full tanks and then worked our way in traffic a lot. But we didn't work our way on full fuel much because you only have 25 sets of tyres, so you have to allocate to keep your tyre situation in good shape. Last week we looked for a clean track with full tanks to get a feel on our race car. Now we're looking for anybody on the racetrack - and their mother, brother, father and sister - with a race car, to get on their gearbox and run with them."

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