Rain postpones Indy qualifying – again


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Frustration is mounting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Drivers and fans will have to wait another week for qualifying.

Rain, which has cut short or canceled every practice session since the track opened for Indy 500 practice last Tuesday, held off just long enough Sunday to give everyone a little taste of what they’re missing.

Defending Indy champion Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr. both managed to post speeds above 228 mph – the fastest so far this month – during a brief practice session that was supposed to be only a warmup for the start of qualifications for the May 28 race.

Two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves, Hornish’s teammate, and Scott Dixon, Wheldon’s teammate, added laps over 227 as 24 drivers took advantage of the short dry spell and nearly perfect track conditions – overcast skies, no wind and temperatures in the low 50s – to get in some practice laps in anticipation of qualifying.

But then the rain returned, wiping out time trials for the second straight day and prompting track officials to reschedule qualifying to next Saturday and Sunday, which were supposed to be the last of four days of time trials.

Brian Barnhart, president of the Indy Racing League, said officials had considered trying to qualify at least part of the 33-car field today or Tuesday, with no on-track activity scheduled for those days. But Barnhart said that with more rain in the forecast, many fans unable to return because of work and other obligations and many of the IRL’s volunteer officials and track workers in the same boat, it was decided to continue with the original schedule.

That includes practice Wednesday through Friday.

All of the top teams ran the first week with hopes of qualifying on the opening weekend and spending a couple of days this week setting up their cars for the race. Several of the other teams, with smaller budgets and less equipment, will begin their preparations Wednesday. That’s likely to make for a crowded track.

“It puts a little burden on (the teams) now because they have to kind of mix and balance full-tank runs and race preparation with qualifying preparation because you will be jockeying for all 33 spots,” Barnhart said. “They’ll have to keep an eye on the weather forecast, too. It just adds another dimension to it that will just make it more challenging for them.”

The last time the first two days of qualifying were washed out was in 1983 and all 33 spots in the field were filled on the following Saturday. The field was also filled on one day in 1999, when there was only one weekend of qualifying on the schedule.

Hornish had been the fastest driver each day since practice began, topping out at 226.789 mph as part of a four-lap simulated qualifying run on Thursday, the last time the drivers had been on track until Sunday.

But Wheldon jumped to the top with a lap of 228.663 in Sunday’s short session. Hornish stayed close behind at 228.220, followed by his Marlboro Team Penske teammate Castroneves at 227.888 and Wheldon’s Target Chip Ganassi teammate Dixon at 227.274. Andretti Green Racing teammates Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan, last year’s pole-winner, were next at 226.960 and 226.389.

The restless drivers went out as soon as they could Sunday and Franchitti said the speeds weren’t indicative of the real strength of the drivers because there was so much traffic on the 2.5-mile oval.

Rahal Letterman Racing’s driving trio of Danica Patrick, 2004 race winner Buddy Rice and newcomer Jeff Simmons were bunched well down the speed chart, with Patrick, last year’s fourth-place qualifier and finisher, best at 222.720.

Still, for many drivers and teams, the delay in qualifying simply is frustrating.

“For a driver, you get focused and do some decent times and then get rained out. To me, it’s more frustrating sitting out there,” said Tomas Scheckter, who was 10th on Sunday at 225.091.

Townsend Bell, Scheckter’s rookie teammate on the Vision Racing team, had a different viewpoint.

“It’s been a good month,” said Bell, who got up to 224.779. “Kind of a series of starts and stops, I suppose. But, to me, Indianapolis and this race is all about drama and tension and unpredictability, which is kind of cool. It just adds to the flavor.”