More rain limits track time for everybody as Indy 500 nears


Less than one frantic hour of track time was all the frustrated teams at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway got Wednesday, yet another in a series of wet Indiana days so far this month.

With the final weekend of qualifications for the May 25 Indianapolis 500 coming up quickly, qualified and non-qualified teams and drivers waited around nearly all day, hoping to get in some work on the historic 21/2-mile Indy oval. The track was finally dry enough to allow some running with just over an hour left in the scheduled six-hour session.

IRL IndyCar Series officials opened the track under a yellow flag, but the green flag finally flew minutes later and 30 cars made it onto the track before rain began falling again, ending the day 10 minutes early.

Since practice opened with a dry day on May 7, two full days of practice and one of the four scheduled qualifying days have been completely washed out, along with two other practice days shortened by rain.

With qualifying set to resume Saturday &

weather permitting &

22 of the 33 starting spots for the 500-mile race remain to be filled.

Pole-winner Scott Dixon, who led first-day qualifiers into the field Saturday, was fast again Wednesday at 222.834 mph, followed by Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon, also last Saturday's runner-up, at 222.810.

Other drivers near the top of the speed chart included Andretti Green Racing teammates Marco Andretti, rookie Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick, all among the Saturday qualifiers, along with non-qualified veterans John Andretti and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

The wet weather doesn't hurt the teams already in the race much, since they still have plenty of time to work on their race-day setups. But those who have yet to qualify have to use whatever track time they can find to get read for both the time trials and the race. And the ever-dwindling track time could be a real problem.

"I anticipate that you will see some scenarios ... on Thursday (where) you will have some pretty big groups of cars running, maybe eight or 10 cars running together, which is going to be cooperation between multiple teams going out there," explained Brian Barnhart, president of competition for the IRL.

"If you are a team that is working on your qualifying setup and you see that going (on), you are not going to go out there and interact with that. You are going to have low downforce, and you are not going to mess with that kind of turbulence."

Barnhart said it is simply a matter of being smart about when to get on track.

"If you want to focus on the full race stuff, you are going to load it up with downforce and have a run," Barnhart said. "But, if not, you are going to wait and try to find your own space on the 2.5-mile track."

Phil Giebler, last year's top Indy rookie, didn't have a ride here until this week and still hasn't been on track. Still, he was optimistic despite the rainy weather.

"Obviously, we have to get in the race," Giebler said. "That's our biggest goal. And it's kind of nice to have the possibility of getting up there (high on the grid)."

But Giebler acknowledged he and everyone else need considerably more track time.

"I think we'll have a good race car," he said. "Unfortunately, we don't have a second car, another teammate or anything to get data off. So it's going to be an interesting couple of days to get up to speed."

Jaime Camara, who crashed last week in practice and was unable to make a qualifying attempt last Saturday, got back on track Wednesday, turning a fast lap of 218.406.

"We don't have a lot of track time left before the race, and we still have to work on qualifying," Camara said. "I think that we will focus on our qualifying all of this week and then focus more on the race during (the final one-hour practice next week).

"That is the challenge for everybody that is going to qualify the second week, but it is what it is, and we have to do the best with what we have and just try to reach our goals now."

Max Papis, son-in-law of two-time Indy winner Emerson Fittipaldi, agreed with Camara.

"It is going to be the same for everybody, except for the first 11 guys that actually can sleep soundly (this) week," said Papis, who also got on track briefly on Wednesday, turning a fast lap of 219.654.

"This rain delay, definitely, it hurts a smaller team more than anything else, because a smaller team needs more time to work and get the car tuned up," Papis said. "You can't make it up in a short time period without possible disaster."

To make things even more interesting, the National Weather Service was calling for a 70 percent chance of rain Thursday afternoon, with at least a 30 percent chance of more precipitation each day through Sunday.

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