Junqueira fastest in round two; Andretti speeds up

Sunday's second round of qualifying for the 85th Indianapolis 500 was filled with high drama.

Junqueira fastest in round two; Andretti speeds up

Several leading drivers scrubbed their round one times and elected to qualify again, but Chip Ganassi's last-minute decision to give Champ Car rookies Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian a crack at the Brickyard ended with the pair taking two out of the three fastest times of the day and comfortably qualifying for the May 27 race.

Now that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has returned to a month-long schedule with two weekends of qualifications for the Indianapolis 500, the second round has traditionally been rather mundane. That wasn't the case on Sunday.

Three drivers, including former winner Eddie Cheever and CART star Michael Andretti, chose to withdraw the cars they qualified on Saturday and re-qualify in a different car to keep from getting bumped out of the field next weekend.

The strategy worked for each driver and now there are 32 cars in the 33-car starting lineup for the May 27 Indianapolis 500 with one more round of qualifications set for next Sunday. Once there are 33 cars in the field, the bumping procedure begins where the car with the slowest speed is put on the bubble and can be knocked out of the race.

Earlier in the day, two more drivers for the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team - CART rookies Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian - easily made the field to give the CART team four cars in the race. NASCAR Winston Cup driver Tony Stewart and CART driver Jimmy Vasser qualified on Saturday.

In Andretti's case, there was plenty of high anxiety on Saturday after he qualified with a four-lap average at 220.747mph. That probably wasn't going to be fast enough to make the race after next Sunday's Bump Day so the team brought out the back-up car and tried to get it up to speed.

Working together with Panther Racing, Team Green was able to use the same set-up that worked for Sam Hornish. It proved to be faster, so Andretti's team decided to withdraw the car it qualified on Saturday in the hope of protecting itself with a faster speed.

It was obvious from Andretti's first lap of 223.306 mph that the decision would work. He improved the speed on his next lap to 223.550 mph and 223.566 on the third lap. He finished the four-lap run with a lap at 223.344 for a four-lap average of 223.441 mph, which virtually guarantees he will start the race in two weeks.

What made Andretti's qualification attempt so crucial is he flies to Japan early on Monday morning for the CART event at Twin Ring Motegi.

"It doesn't make it impossible to wait and see if we get bumped out of the field, but if it rains in Japan it does," said team owner Barry Green. "That is what we have to protect ourselves against."

Team Green general manager Kim Green said if Andretti had been slower on his qualification attempt on Sunday, a back-up plan would have been to qualify next Sunday with Hornish's backup car.

It didn't matter, as Andretti was able to rise to the challenge and stick it in the race.

"I didn't miss this stuff," he said of the last-day drama. "I've never experienced this. I feel sorry for the guys that go through this. It's a high-pressure situation. I didn't sleep well last night. It's very stressful. It was a team decision to withdraw the car. We discussed it this morning. We put Sam's set-up on the car, exactly. We ran a 220 in the heat, which was good for me. We would have done well yesterday if I had had this set-up. I didn't get many laps late because of the problem Eliseo Salazar had and him coming down right in the groove, which I thought was unsportsmanlike, by the way."

Andretti was complaining that when Salazar's engine blew up on the final lap of his qualification attempt, he put oil on the track surface. After a lengthy clean-up, the track was dusty from the oil dry that had been put on the track.

After missing the race since 1995 because of the ongoing dispute that CART has against the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Andretti said it would have been a shame if he had been bumped out of the field in his return to the Indy 500. There were other options available if Sunday's gamble had not worked.

Hornish will run in Andretti's car this week to help set it up for race day. Andretti could return from Japan in time to practice next Sunday, but will definitely be in the car on Carburetion Day on May 24. That is the final practice for the Indy 500.

Junqueira was the fastest qualifier on Sunday with a four-lap average of 224.208mph, but will start on the inside of the ninth row as second-round qualifiers line up behind the slowest first day qualifiers. Andretti was next at 223.441 followed by Minassian's 223.006 mph making the ninth row an all CART row.

Jeret Schroeder, Buzz Calkins, Eddie Cheever, Davey Hamilton and Tyce Carlson all qualified into the field on Sunday.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be closed for practice Monday and Tuesday before reopening on Wednesday. Practice will continue through Saturday with the final round of qualifications next Sunday.

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