Second round notebook: Cheever scrapes in

Eddie Cheever won the Indianapolis 500 in 1998 and joined a select group of winners of one of the most prestigious races in the world, but on Sunday, Cheever almost failed to qualify after struggling to set a competitive time around the Brickyard

Second round notebook: Cheever scrapes in

After qualifying at 220.513 miles per hour for his four-lap average on Saturday, Cheever knew that the speed would not hold up for two more rounds of qualifications, so he withdrew that speed and decided to re-qualify with another car on Sunday. The tactic worked as the former Grand Prix driver improved to 222.152 miles per hour, which should keep him in the race after the field is set next Sunday at the conclusion of Bump Day.

"It was very touch and go whether we were going to make it," Cheever said. "I cannot think of anything more humiliating than not qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. You put every ounce of courage and common sense out the window. I had never taken Turn 1 flat and I went around it flat on my second lap.

"I bumped Bobby Rahal out of the race in the final five minutes in 1993. I did not want to go through that again."

Having re-qualified, Cheever should be in good shape as the team prepares to run the new Infiniti Indy 35A engine in the race. Cheever is the owner/driver of Cheever Indy Racing team, which also has Scott Goodyear in this year's field.

Goodyear qualified 16th on Sunday and will start in the middle of sixth row.

"This is the meanest, nastiest racing circuit you will ever have to qualify on and those four laps are very difficult," Cheever said. "We are in the field now and now we will concentrate on what some of these problems are. I think we will have a good race engine. I think everybody will come back when it comes to the race."

Cheever discussed the emotions that he went through trying to get a better car into the field.

"It is very satisfying when it's over and I'm elated that we have qualified," Cheever said. "I actually do feel like I'm on pole and I'm probably in the last few rows. The Indy 500 is the most important race of our calendar year, bar none. To not be in the race, whether you get run over on the way to the track or choke on a vitamin, it is an aberration." Cheever said the team started having problems with the cars three days ago.

"Things kept getting worse and worse," he added. "We changed the wiring looms and spark boxes. When you pull out a time and haven't been bumped yet, it goes against all possible logic. When Michael Andretti went out there and put up a 223, we had no choice. "I'm glad it's over. I would put that down as one of the happiest moments I've had at Indy in a long time. It rates right up there."

With such a diverse field in this year's race, Cheever expects a highly competitive Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

"The IRL is very competitive," Cheever said. "By its nature, all the cars are pretty close. I think a lot of the drivers that come over here and race at Indy in cars that are as difficult to balance as these are will come to appreciate the level of competitiveness in the IRL.

"There has been a lot said over the last three years with different series, but once we have a good Indy 500 together, that will go."

After NASCAR Winston Cup star Tony Stewart and CART driver Jimmy Vasser qualified Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's two primary cars into the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday, team owner Chip Ganassi decided to let his two CART rookies make the field in the backup cars.

Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian easily qualified for the race on Sunday. Junqueira was the fastest second-round qualifier with a four-lap average of 224.208 miles per hour. Earlier in the day, he was the fastest driver in the Sunday morning practice session with a lap at 225.243 mph.

Minassian qualified with a four-lap average of 223.006 mph. Both are driving G Force/Oldsmobile Aurora combinations.

"My hat is off to Tony Stewart and Jimmy Vasser because they did the work to get the guys into the show," Ganassi said. "Without them, it wouldn't have been possible."

Both drivers admitted they were surprised that Ganassi changed his mind and let them qualify for the race after the two drivers were overlooked in favour of the more experienced Stewart and Vasser last week.

"I was happy to get the opportunity," Junqueira said. "I knew I had one shot. I had no idea. I thought I was supposed to concentrate on the Japan race, then Chip gave me this opportunity. It's a big race, the biggest race in the world. I came here everyday and tried to learn from Tony Stewart and Jimmy Vasser because they have much more experience than I do. I went out on one outing this morning and did a 225 and I said, `This car is awesome. We could qualify on the front row.'"

In order to do that, however, Junqueira would have had to make his qualification attempt on Saturday, not the second round on Sunday. He will start on the inside of the ninth row.

"All the drivers in the world dream of racing here," Junqueira said. "It was a big surprise yesterday afternoon when Chip called me to race. A very funny thing happened. The guys said, `Bruno and Nicolas can go home.' I just got to 16th Street and the phone rings. I thought maybe I had an appearance, but they said, `No, you're going to race.'"

Minassian will start on the outside of the ninth row alongside Junqueira and Andretti, making it an all-CART ninth row.

"I was on my way back home in Indianapolis and they called me and said you have to come back out to the track, you're going to run Indianapolis," said Minassian, a native of Paris, France. "It just came as a surprise, but it's a good one. It's exciting. Everywhere you go in this town, it's racing. I go to the supermarket and racing is everywhere."

When rookie Cory Witherill was on the race track taking his warm up laps before an aborted qualification attempt, a squirrel ran down the frontstretch at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As Witherill's screaming Indy car approached, the lucky squirrel was able to jump into a hole in the concrete retaining wall where one of the electronic timing transponders are located.

Another driver who decided to withdraw his qualifying speed from Saturday to re-qualify on Sunday in a different car was Buzz Calkins. On Saturday, Calkins had the slowest speed in the field with a four-lap average of 220.039 miles per hour. On Sunday, he was able to up his four-lap average to 222.467 mph.

"When I was sitting here on Saturday, I kinda had a pit in my stomach," Calkins said. "Even if we didn't get bumped, I knew we would have to get the car back up to speed to be prepared to qualify. I think this car is a little better. Looking back at the decision yesterday to take that speed, it was probably pretty foolish, but we got lucky."

Now that Calkins has improved his speed, the driver with the slowest speed in the field is Roberto Guerrero at 220.054 mph. When the field of 33 cars is set and the bumping process begins next Sunday, he will be the driver on the bubble followed by Tyce Carlson, Airton Dare and Didier Andre.

Junqueira fastest in round two; Andretti speeds up
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