Matos, Tracy among Indy qualifiers
INDIANAPOLIS -- With so many veteran drivers trying to make it into the field for the Indianapolis 500 on the second day of qualifications, it seemed unlikely the spotlight would fall on rookie Raphael Matos.
But the 28-year-old Indy rookie led the way Sunday, posting a four-lap average of 223.429 mph to top the second group of 11 drivers to make it into the 33-car field for the May 24 race.
Even Matos was impressed by how fast he ran -- especially after failing to make it into the lineup on Saturday with a 222.466 effort.
"Yeah, I was a little bit surprised," he said. "But we did a qualifying simulation during the five minutes before qualifying started, and we made a few adjustments in the car for the qualifying run and found almost half a mile an hour. So I'm extremely happy for the Luczo Dragon team. ... Let's go racing."
Sunday's seven fastest drivers posted speeds quicker than the 222.622 by Alex Lloyd, the slowest of the 11 drivers who earned spots in the lineup on Saturday.
But, despite a warmer day without the wind gusts up to 25 mph that hampered the first-day runs, nobody was able to come anywhere near the pole-winning 224.864 by Helio Castroneves.
The Brazilian, who earned his third Indy pole in seven years, was part of a front row that included Penske Racing teammate Ryan Briscoe and 2007 Indy winner and Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti.
Second fastest on Sunday was longtime open-wheel star Paul Tracy, making his first appearance at Indy since finishing second to Castroneves in 2002.
It hasn't taken the 40-year-old Tracy long to remember the kind of challenges that the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis oval can present.
In the last hour of Saturday's qualifying session, Tracy posted a qualifying effort of 221.915, which was promptly bumped from the lineup.
On Sunday, he went out early in the six-hour session and got his speed up to 222.749. But, with two more attempts available to him, Tracy and his KV Racing Technology team deemed that too slow and withdrew it.
Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, he went back out and ran a much more satisfying 223.111.
"This [qualifying format] makes your mouth dry and your nerves get up," Tracy said. "You know, to do it once is OK, but having to hang on four or eight or 12 [laps] is a different story."
Meira was among a flurry of drivers who went out to qualify in the first hour of the session. But his 221.934 was disallowed when an inspection found his rear suspension did not meet specifications.
The suspension was fixed and Meira made another run, raising his speed to a solid 223.054.
Other Sunday qualifiers included Justin Wilson at 222.903, Hideki Mutoh at 222.805, Ed Carpenter at 222.780, 2005 Indy winner Dan Wheldon at 222.777, A.J. Foyt IV at 222.586, Scott Sharp at 222.162, Sarah Fisher at 222.082 and Davey Hamilton at 221.956.
Fisher, joining Danica Patrick as the only women in the lineup thus far, also withdrew an earlier qualifying effort before going out and running faster.
Sharp, a former pole-winner here, withdrew a run of 221.103, had a 221.333 bumped out of the lineup by Foyt's second run of the day and then bumped E.J. Viso's 221.745 on the final attempt of the busy day. Sharp left the pits 1 minute before the end of the session, which meant he was allowed to complete the run.
John Andretti, taking a break from his NASCAR Sprint Cup ride to run at Indy, posted a disappointing qualifying speed of 221.109 Sunday and was trying to find more speed in practice when he crashed. Graham Rahal, working on his race day setup after qualifying fourth on Saturday, nearly hit Andretti's crashed car.
The 20-year-old Rahal purposely spun his car to avoid Andretti's and slid several hundred yards, damaging his tires but avoiding any contact.
"John's car just kind of exploded," Rahal said. "There was stuff everywhere. ... I just turned as hard left as I could. When I hit the brakes, it just locked up. It just locked up so hard, the engine shut off before I even spun. Then I just hung on."
Minutes later, the unfortunate Andretti's speed was bumped from the lineup by Sharp.
"I had a little bit of an oops this morning, too, and managed to save it," Andretti said. "But that [last] one jumped too far on me too quickly.
"I feel fine. The car took a hard beating and that's frustrating. The team will work on it. They'll get it back together, and we'll be back next week."
Positions 23 through 33 will be filled next Saturday in the third round of time trials, with next Sunday reserved for any remaining cars trying to bump the slowest qualifiers from the first three rounds out of the field.
There were two other crashes Sunday, with Indy rookies Mike Conway and Alex Tagliani both hitting the wall. Tagliani was not injured, but Conway, a 25-year-old Englishman, was admitted to an Indianapolis hospital with bruised lungs.
Tagliani came back in a backup car but was too slow in a late qualifying attempt, as was Ryan Hunter-Reay, coming back from a crash earlier in the week.
Those two, along with Andretti, Milka Duno, bumped out of Sunday's qualifying, Viso, rookie Stanton Barrett and Robert Doornbos, who crashed twice in practice, will be among the drivers trying to drive their way into the race next weekend.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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