Pole Day notebook: Arie, Al and Michael too

Talk about luck. Two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk was the first driver to make a qualification attempt, but his team knew the engine might not last after a problem developed with the motor on Saturday morning.

Pole Day notebook: Arie, Al and Michael too

Luyendyk was able to get a four-lap average of 224.257 mph before the motor pitched on the final lap. He will start on the outside of the second row.

"On the backstraight I heard a clunk," Luyendyk said of the engine. "I felt it (engine going soft) this morning already. It didn't feel like it did yesterday. We thought about changing the engine this morning. We weren't sure. There were no signs on any of the data. So, we decided to still take this first (qualifying) run.

"I guess my instinct was right. I didn't really experience the thrill of qualifying here today because I was the first one out. I definitely went into Turn 1 a lot harder than I have all week because that's what you have to do, save the best for last. It feels good to know that I'm still able to feel the car and work with the guys to set up the car even with feeling that don't show up on the data. So the next time I tell the guys to change the engine, they'll know to just do it."



After failing to qualify for the race in 1995 when he was with Marlboro Team Penske, then missing the event from 1996-99 during the CART/IRL war, two-time winner Al Unser Jr. was able to get back into the Indy 500 field for the second year in a row. Unser will start on the inside of the seventh row.

"We're in the show, and it's a long race," Unser said. "I'll be in the middle of the pack, and I wish we were up a little further. You can win this race from anywhere. The main thing to do is take a solid qualifying run and get ready for the show.

"It's definitely where you finish on Memorial weekend that counts, and to win it, you got to be in it. I don't think we have a big worry of getting bumped. We can start thinking of the race."



After suffering through a difficult week trying to get a handle on his Indy Racing League car, Michael Andretti qualified for the outside of the eighth row with a four-lap average of 220.747 mph. His speed puts him in jeopardy of being bumped out of the field during Sunday's second round of qualifications and next Sunday's Bump Day.

Andretti is back at Indy for the first time since the 1995 500-mile race.

"Getting in the field is the most important thing," Andretti said. "We struggled a little to get speed this month. The race is why we're all here anyway. This is the biggest race in the world, and it is always going to happen. We've had F1 champions come here to race, and it shows how big this event is. I think that is why you are seeing it happen."



Defending Indy 500 winning team owner Chip Ganassi was able to have both his drivers safely make the race on Saturday. NASCAR Winston Cup driver Tony Stewart will start in the inside of the third row with a four-lap average of 224.248 mph. Jimmy Vasser will start on the outside of the fourth row at 223.455 mph.

Ganassi will attempt to put his two CART drivers - rookies Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian - into the field on Sunday.

"The guys have given me a great race car," Stewart said. "I would have loved to have been on the pole, but I'm more worried about getting my picture on the Borg-Warner Trophy in a couple of weeks. I'm sticking to my guns. I've never seen anyone on the Borg-Warner Trophy for winning the pole."

Said Vasser, "The car was fantastic. It was the best it has been all week long. I just think we are a little down in power. The car was great. I have to hand it to my guys, my guys for this race anyway. I think we are going to be real formidable on Race Day."

Ganassi believes the first step toward defending the Indianapolis 500 title as a team owner is over, despite the fact the driver who won the race, Juan Pablo Montoya, is now in Formula 1.

"Mission accomplished," Ganassi said. "We had a solid week. We can't take chances, like some of these guys, with our qualifying engines. We just want to be in the show. With the fact that we have to be in Japan next week, gambling isn't too high on our priority list.

"Tony Stewart really is somebody. Until two weeks ago I had never met him. The guys love him. The engineers think he's great. I've been having a lot of fun with him. Hopefully it's not a one-race deal. It was tough to tell our two rookies that we were going to slow their careers by one race, but we plugged Jimmy and Tony in, and they've done well. It's a good, solid week."



Robby Gordon, who began the season as a NASCAR Winston Cup driver with Morgan-McClure Racing before he was fired after five races and replaced by Kevin Lepage, will start on the outside of the front row after qualifying at 224.994 mph.

"I thought we had a real shot at getting the pole," said Gordon, who is racing for A.J. Foyt at Indy. "We waited until weather conditions were ideal. My fastest lap was my warm-up lap. My warm-up lap surprised me. The car was loose going into Turn 1 on the first lap. I tightened the bar two notches for the second lap. Then I had to back it off one more notch because I had to let off. Then on lap three I loosened the bar some more.

"I am excited to be in the front row. A.J. Foyt knows how to make a car go fast. We're going to work on our race setup. My race strategy is to go out, sit back and cruise. With 75 to 50 laps to go to I'll turn it up. There are a lot of obstacles to get around. You have to have a little luck because you still have 10 pit stops."

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