Ray notches up another quick time

After five full days of practice, with one more scheduled for Friday, it would seem like that's plenty of time for a team in the Indianapolis 500 to prepare for Saturday's pole qualifications. But Greg Ray, the fastest of the day on Thursday, said there is plenty of anxiety in Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ray notches up another quick time

Ray was the fastest driver for the third time in the past five days when he ran a lap at 224.542 miles per hour in the Team Menard Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora. He was able to turn the fast lap in the heat of the day just after noon. And that was in his back-up car, not the primary car that he will likely run for the pole. That would be enough to give any driver confidence of winning the pole on Saturday, but it's not in Ray's nature to be filled with overconfidence.

"I wish I had the confidence that I had some big, huge rocket in my back pocket that I'm going to pull out and think that is what is going to happen," Ray said. "We think we can do well, but it's about getting the right draw and getting four laps together. I get very apprehensive because it's going to be extremely competitive."

Even though there has been plenty of time, Ray believes time is running out.

"There are six days before qualifying," Ray said. "What could you not get done in six long days? We could run these cars, change motors, go backwards and go to the moon and back. Now, it's time for Friday and I have a lot of questions. There are 50 other guys out there who think the same way. A lot of guys are apprehensive and want to do well. We keep pushing that bar higher and higher and higher and want to try something new. This event is the biggest thing to get up for in racing and I'm stirring with emotion and apprehension."

Gil de Ferran, the defending CART champion for Marlboro Team Penske, was second quickest at 223.579mph in a Dallara-Aurora on the final lap of the 29 he ran on Thursday. Indy Racing League regular Jeff Ward was third at 223.432mph in a G Force-Oldsmobile followed by NASCAR Winston Cup star Tony Stewart's 223.188 mph in a G Force/Aurora. Stewart also had the fifth fastest lap at 223.186mph in his back-up car.

There were more than 25 cars on the race track at any one time on Thursday because rain is forecast for Friday, which could make this possibly the last full practice session. Forty-two cars were on the track on Thursday turning 1610 laps.

"Some of the teams are thinking there may be the possibility of rain," Ray said. "We are happy with our T-car and think our primary car might be a little better, but we're not happy with it yet. The balance isn't there. We were tweaking on it and made a lot of changes. I hate making changes when you are going 225 miles an hour around the race track.

"With 25 cars on the race track, nothing is right. If somebody went fast, you really can't count it. You can post a big number with a tow, but it doesn't really count in qualifying."

Ray believes he could have gone quicker if there had only been a few cars on the track at the end of the day, he could have gone even faster than what he did in the heat of the day.

"I was very pleased because it was 120 degrees track temperature and it was very windy," Ray said. "I thought I could run a couple more in that speed range. You never can tell what makes the car go fast under which conditions. We are happy with our T-car (back-up) but have a lot of work to do.

"I don't take anything for granted because there are a lot of great drivers out there. If you look at that list, it's pretty impressive. I think it is arguably the most talented field of drivers ever in the Indy 500. That's pretty cool."

Ray believes if any team misses the target in qualifying, they will be way back in the field. With three CART teams in this year's race, there could be good battle lines drawn between the IRL teams and those from CART, but Ray doesn't believe that is what motivates any driver in the race.

"I certainly didn't stand on the gas and throw it in the corners for league pride, it was for Team Menard," Ray said. "I think it's exciting there are a lot of great teams and a lot of great drivers here. You would like to think at one time, maybe they will all be running in one series.

"Maybe right now, it's just the Indy 500."

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