Saturday notebook: Gregoire jumps ship

After losing confidence in his ability to drive Dick Simon's entry to a speed capable of making the Indianapolis 500 starting field, Stephan Gregoire has left the team to drive a backup car for Heritage Motorsports.

Saturday notebook: Gregoire jumps ship

"When we came here this month, we had one goal in mind - put Stephan in the show and try to race for a win," team owner Dick Simon said. "Right now, we've done everything to achieve this goal but unfortunately since day one we've encountered a communication problem and never found enough speed for Stephan to pass the 220 mph mark.

"It is important for Stephan and our sponsors that Stephan gets this chance with Heritage. Our team is 100 percent behind Stephan's decision and we hope he is successful."

Gregoire was able to get into Jeff Ward's backup car and get into the 219mph range on Saturday.

"For the first time out in the car, things were excellent," Gregoire said. "I got the car up to 217-218 (mph), so I'm very excited for tomorrow. This team has proved they know what they're doing. So I'm confident we'll produce the results we need to get in the show."

Ward helped Gregoire with the setup of the car and will attempt to get him into the field during Sunday's final day of qualifications.

"I think our partnership with Stephan (Gregoire) will be good for the team in the long run," Ward said. "He's a capable driver, and we're giving him a fast car. So he has what he needs to get in the show. As far as our efforts go, we need more time with the car to get it where we want it. We'll work very hard Thursday to get everything where we want it. I'm very confident in this team and package. We'll be strong on Race Day."

It appears that Casey Mears of Galles Racing will not make the Indianapolis 500 field during Sunday's final round of qualifications, or if he does, it will take a tremendous gain of speed in a short period of time.

The nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears and the son of two-time Indy 500 starter Roger Mears could manage just a 215.298 mph practice lap on Saturday. It will take a lap over 221 miles per hour to make the field on Sunday.

Mears is normally a likeable, cooperative driver in the garage area, but he was a man of very few words on Saturday.

"I can't predict what is going to happen tomorrow, but we have made some gains today, and we are going to go out tomorrow for qualifying and do the best we can," Mears said.

Team manager Darrin Russell remains confident that the team can find the necessary speed on Sunday to make the race.

"We wouldn't even be trying if we didn't think we could do it," Russell said. "Each of our three drivers likes a different car. We are going in different directions trying different things. The whole operation is trying to get over some of the problems we've had.

"We are taking a long time to get up to speed because we want to keep Casey's confidence level up. Everybody is staying patient, there is no reason in forcing the issue. We are getting there."

Russell believes the harder Mears tries, the worse it will become.

"We know where we want to get to," Russell said. "Everyone is shooting for 221.5mph and maybe that is why we saw some crashes today."

Mears' contract with Galles Racing runs through the Indy 500, which means if he misses the race, he may not be at Texas Motor Speedway for the IRL's next race on June 9.

"We put Casey through his rookie orientation last year and he did a great job," said fellow team owner Ron Hemelgarn. "He did a great job for us, had good car feedback for us and we had a contract with him. Then this spot popped up with Rick Galles. We let him out of the contract so he could join Galles.

"All I asked Rick was if he was giving Casey a car capable of showing his true ability and he said that he sure was. I really don't know what has happened down there, but I know Casey Mears was a good driver for us."

Tyce Carlson was transported to Methodist Hospital after he crashed coming out of the fourth turn on Saturday afternoon. Carlson bit his tongue in the incident and also complained of a sore back. He was treated and released.

Stan Wattles has withdrawn from the 85th Indianapolis 500 after he was involved in several crashes last week. That means Hemelgarn Racing now has another car that it can attempt to qualify on Sunday to join the team's primary driver, Buddy Lazier, in the Indy 500 starting lineup.

"After two accidents during the month, I've decided not to compete at Indy," Wattles said. "The car just didn't feel right. It was extremely unstable even with a lot of downforce and new tyres. The front end felt strange through the corners and down the straightaway, and that's something that doesn't need to be explored the day before `Bump Day.'

"This is the most difficult decision I've had to make in my racing career. After all, this is in the Indy 500."

Raul Boesel had the fastest speed of the day with a lap at 222.547 mph in a G Force-Oldsmobile Aurora for Treadway-Hubbard Racing.

"The car's really solid," Boesel said. "I'm still coming up to speed myself, but I'm really comfortable in the car. The Treadway-Hubbard team does a great job, and it's great to be working with them again. I know I have the speed, and I know the team has great cars, especially here at Indy. The weather will play a big part in the speeds tomorrow. So we'll see what tomorrow brings."

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