Pole-winner Hornish finds wall in practice

Updated: May 21, 2006, 9:34 PM ET
By John Schwarb and John Oreovicz | Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Usually Indianapolis 500 Bump Day is all about the rear of the 33-car field, but Sunday the polesitter made news again -- and this time it wasn't the positive kind.

Sam Horrnish Jr.
AP Photo/Tom HemmerSparks fly as Sam Horrnish Jr's. backup car slides out of the short chute of Turn 1.

While trailing Danica Patrick on a midday practice lap, Sam Hornish Jr. of Team Penske put his backup Dallara-Honda into the outside wall at the exit of Turn 1, doing light damage to the left side. It was the first hiccup of the month for the dominant driver, who had been the fastest all month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and claimed the pole Saturday at a speed of 228.895 mph.

"We got stuck behind a few people who slowed down. I slowed up, too, and when I went back on the gas, the back of the car came out from under me," said Hornish, who was unhurt.

The backup car was not the car he qualified, in fact it was the first time the car had seen the track since opening day.

Hornish expressed remorse for giving his crew an unexpected extra load of work for the rest of the afternoon, but found relief in having a mishap this Sunday as opposed to next.

"The bright side is we got this out of the way early," he said. "I'm sure that the first couple of laps I will be a little bit more cautious, but that might be a good thing."

Hornish's accident came just after a lap of 226.256 mph, again the fastest of the day. Teammate Helio Castroneves, who qualified second for the race, was second in the session at 225.248 mph.

-- J.S.

Rahal's first ride

It's hard to imagine that any driver could be more dominant than Sebastien Bourdais around Monterrey's Fundidora Park road course. But Graham Rahal managed the feat, leading all 32 laps of the Atlantic Championship support race from pole position for his first win in Champ Car's popular support series.

Graham, the 17-year old son of open-wheel great Bobby Rahal, was in a class by himself all weekend in the Gehl-sponsored entry he drives for Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing. He beat French rookie Simon Pagenaud by 3.5 seconds, with local favorite David Martinez some 13 seconds behind at the checkered flag.

"It's good to come out here and win one after a tough race last week in Houston," Rahal said. "Everything went as planned and we had a good car. I just kept putting fast laps together and eventually I guess I just wore everyone out."

Making the win even more special for Graham is the fact that his father spent the weekend with him in Mexico rather than overseeing his team's three-car Indy Racing League entries qualify at Indianapolis.

"It was good to have him here for the first win in Atlantics," Graham said.

Bobby Rahal, whose team fielded cars in the Atlantic series for upcoming open-wheel stars Danica Patrick and Chris Festa in 2003 and 2004, believes his son has advanced to a level beyond that duo at this stage of his career.

"I think so," said the 1986 Indy 500 winner and three-time CART national champion. "Obviously it's hard to compare, since they didn't race against each other and the cars have changed. But the Atlantic field is definitely deeper this year than it was in those days and I'm so proud of everything he has accomplished to date."

Bobby Rahal actually ran Graham's pit board during the Monterrey race.

"He was afraid I was going to fall down out there," quipped the proud papa. "I'm going to have to ask him for a pay raise."

And did Bobby do a good job on the pit wall?

"I think he was off by a couple of tenths once or twice, but he was pretty close," smiled Graham.

-- J.O.

No love from Bourdais for IRL Cars

Bourdais is one racer who isn't shedding any tears because he is not in Indianapolis for the month of May and the Indianapolis 500. And he wasn't shy about explaining why.

"Those cars are unsafe," he opined. "Bruno [Junqueira] experienced it last year and so have many others. "I'm glad I did the race last year. I proved I could do it. But as long as they are in those [IRL] cars, I don't want to race there. I don't want to break my back and end up handicapped."

-- J.O.

Divine intervention

The story of PDM Racing was special enough with its late reconstruction of a car and last-hour qualifying for the 33rd spot in the race. Would you believe there was a Roman Catholic priest on the team, helping the rebuilding effort?

Glenn O'Connor, a longtime member of PDM as a support staff member working with tires, is a pastor at an Indianapolis church and a part-time chaplain with Indy Racing League ministries.

Sunday morning, in the craziness that was the PDM garage, he conducted a service.

"It was a surreal experience," PDM co-owner Paul Diatlovich said. "We still had 5,000 five-minute jobs left, and he put his robe on, got his communion kit and said Mass. The door was open, and several other team members came by."

-- J.S.

Indy from a distance

Indianapolis 500 qualifying was a popular topic in the Monterrey pressroom, and many a laptop followed progress of the time trials throughout the weekend. No one South of the Border was surprised when Sam Hornish Jr. nabbed pole position and that Marlboro Team Penske and Target/Ganassi Racing swept the first four places on the grid.

What did raise eyebrows was the Indy Racing League's decision to shut down practice Friday afternoon to allow Roger Yasukawa to take a refresher test. Even more egregious was granting P.J. Jones his own private practice session after the 6 o'clock gun sounded to supposedly end the action on the final day before Pole Day.

Quite frankly, I think Hornish should have been given an extra 15 or 20 minutes of practice. That bonus track time might have been enough to push his pole speed over 230 mph, or prevented the Sunday accident that wrecked his backup car from happening.

Maybe Danica Patrick could have used a few more practice laps to move further up the grid. Al Unser Jr. hasn't been in a car for a couple of years; he's another candidate. Oh yeah -- they already allowed him and fellow veteran Michael Andretti to share the track during Rookie Orientation a couple of weeks ago.

Perhaps they will rectify the situation and open the track for a select few drivers during one of the off days prior to Carburetion Day and the race, just to provide the level playing field that the Indy Racing League prides itself on.

One thing's for sure: The extra hot laps didn't help Yasukawa and Jones, who respectively qualified 10 and 13 mph off the pace.

-- J.O.

Securing a ride, just not that one

Tyce Carlson, a two-time Indy 500 starter, worked the garage area all weekend trying to find a ride. He didn't get one for the big show, but appeared to have secured a ride for Friday's Freedom 100 Indy Pro Series race.

"We are really concentrating on 2007. Maybe the Pro Series will be a way for me to get back in the car, get my feel back and get ready for next year," said Carlson, whose last 500 was in 1999.

-- J.S.

A Penske-assisted proposal

An Atlanta man proposed marriage outside the Team Penske garage Sunday morning. Stephen Flatt explained to Helio Castroneves' crew that his girlfriend, Lynnette Counts, was a big fan of the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and concocted an idea.

Flatt and Counts waited outside the garage for an autograph, and after Castroneves signed, Flatt proposed. Before Counts could answer, the driver cut her off.

"Why don't you say yes?" Castroneves said.

She did.

"I couldn't think of a better driver to do it," Flatt said. "He's got the greatest attitude out here. I felt he could have some fun with it."

-- J.S.

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

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.