Indianapolis 500 notebook

Scott Sharp may have been the least happy driver after Carburetion Day - Thursday's practice session for the Indianapolis 500. He didn't get out on the track until the final four minutes and then only managed to make three laps, the fastest at a mere 140.199 miles per hour. The clutch on Sharp's Delphi Automotive Systems racer would not engage and the team had to spend most of the session fixing it.

Indianapolis 500 notebook

At the top of the speed chart was front-row starter Juan Montoya - the defending CART champion - who reached 218.257 miles per hour on the 13th of his 14 laps around the 2.5 mile oval. Montoya was the only driver above 218 miles per hour.

Eddie Cheever, the 1998 winner, was second fastest at 217.909 miles per hour on the 11th of his 18 laps on a picture perfect May afternoon in Indiana.

"It's an awesome day to be a race car driver," Cheever said. "The track is in perfect condition."

Cheever, like many of the drivers, kept practice to a minimum and did not do any serious work on the chassis set-up. With the race four days away, and the weather sure to change, not much can be done in the way of serious fine-tuning.

"If you haven't got your race set-up yet, I doubt like hell that you will find in on Carburetion Day," Cheever said.

Still, 13 drivers ran 25 laps or more. Davey Hamilton ran the most at 45 laps, or 112.5 miles. Aside from Sharp, Jimmy Kite ran the fewest laps-11.

Rookie Sarah Fisher spent much of the session practising pit stops, making a full circuit before coming into the pits for tyre changes and a 'dry' refuelling. She stalled her car on the first stop, then nailed the next four. The best of her 23 laps was 211.736 miles per hour.

"The car is really comfortable at 210 or 211," she said. "That's where we think the race pace will be come Sunday.

Buzz Calkins had run more than a dozen laps when a problem developed in the rev limiter. "There was a bad connection between two wires," Calkins said. "I think if we switch it out, we'll be fine." Calkins's crew did just that, and he took his car back out for a final couple of laps before calling it a day.

Lack of manpower-kept pole sitter Greg Ray off the track during the first part of the session, which began at 11 a.m. (EST).

"We're still sort of suffering from running two cars out of a one-car team," Ray said. "We really didn't have enough for Robby Gordon's car and my car at the same time. That's really one of the problems we've had all week long. I hope we get that straight on race day. But the car feels pretty good."

Even though Ray won the pole, Gordon took priority on Carburetion Day because he had obligations later in the day at Charlotte Motor Speedway in his full-time job as a Winston Cup driver. Gordon was done by 12:20 p.m. and soon gone from the track.

When Ray finally got on the track, he discovered that the gearing in his transmission was slightly off.

"It's nice to know we have some good information to with which to make intelligent decisions on race day," he said.

Most drivers and teams wanted to make sure, more than anything else, that everything was working properly and get a final few laps of experience with full fuel tanks.

"We went out initially and checked to make sure we didn't have any leaks," said rookie Andy Hillenburg. "We found a couple of little problems and got those fixed. Then we went back out and ran on full tanks. We ran around a couple of the other cars, tried to pass a couple of cars and let a couple of cars pass me to see how the car would react. We're real happy with our package for Sunday."

Jacques Lazier, brother of 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, also used the session to develop a strong platform for his race car.

"We just wanted to see how stable the car was," Lazier said. "That's the whole key here-to have a nice, stable, consistent car. That's exactly what our car is. We can run all day long at that speed."

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