Indianapolis weather plays havoc with Pole Day

Updated: May 14, 2006, 4:34 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's billed as an exciting new way to set the field of 33 for the Indianapolis 500, spreading out the process over three days with a fourth day for bumping. But drivers and fans will have to wait yet another year to see how it works.

For the second consecutive year, rain forced cancellation of Pole Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Teams will try again Sunday, weather permitting, to determine the pole position and the next 21 spots, instead of fighting for the top 11 during Saturday qualifying under the new format. The revamped Pole Day will be televised by ESPN2 from noon-3 p.m. ET and 6-7 p.m. ET.

"It always seems like bad weather comes on Pole Day more than any other day," said 11-time Indy starter Scott Sharp of Delphi Fernandez Racing.

He's right. Five straight Pole Days and eight of the last 11 have been affected by weather. Saturday's daylong rains also forced cancellation of morning practice, continuing a weeklong theme.

Since the track opened Tuesday to all drivers, at least a portion of each day has been disrupted by bad weather.

"Fast Friday" also was a total loss, marking the first time in 25 years that consecutive days of Indianapolis 500 activity were canceled by rain.

For a number of teams, the balky conditions are becoming more than just an inconvenience. Cars aren't getting up to speed sitting in Gasoline Alley.

"It's tough because we are struggling to find some things we need to find, and the rain is really hurting us," said 1996 champion Buddy Lazier of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. "We're working to have all our ducks in a row."

Team Penske and Ganassi Racing have established their power in the limited practice time. Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. owns the fastest time of the month at 226.789 mph in his Dallara-Honda, and teammate Helio Castroneves is third on the speed chart at 225.547 mph with his backup car (the two-time champion's primary ride is 10th fastest).

Ganassi drivers Dan Wheldon (226.088 mph) and Scott Dixon (225.309 mph) are second and fourth, respectively.

"They came here very prepared, they rolled out their [backup] 'T' cars opening day in qualifying spec, they've probably done the most work of anybody," Sharp said. "When any extra practice sessions are rained out, it becomes a bit of an advantage for them."

Danica Patrick, 2005 Indy Rookie of the Year after a fourth-place finish and a qualifying effort which fell just short of the pole, expressed frustration all week about not getting her Rahal Letterman Panoz-Honda up to last year's level.

But Saturday was not a day for finding any answers, it was more for video games, autographs and other diversions.

"I do think our team won one race; our truck driver was the fastest on pit lane with his pit cart," Rahal Letterman's Jeff Simmons said. "It's funny what the drivers and crews think up during a rain delay."

Sunday, they can only hope to get back to serious work. Forecasts mirror Saturday's -- there's a chance of showers all day.

"It's a big disadvantage for everybody," said Michael Andretti, returning to Indianapolis as a driver for the first time since 2003. "Personally, I'd love to have my car in the field and just be focusing on race week."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com