Doornbos fastest in 3rd-round qualifying
INDIANAPOLIS -- Hitting the wall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- twice -- could slow down some drivers.
Not Robert Doornbos, who shook off two crashes in practice last week and led the third of four rounds of time trials for the Indianapolis 500 as the final 11 spots in the 33-car field were tentatively filled.
The Dutchman, a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, crashed on consecutive days in the first week of practice for the May 24 race and missed the opening weekend of qualifying.
He came back strong with a four-lap average of 221.692 mph on Saturday to grab the 23rd position in the lineup.
"I can't say it's been a boring month," said Doornbos, who has been mentored here by two-time Indy winner and countryman Arie Luyendyk.
"I arrived here with Arie and, inspecting the track, he scared me to death in the pace car ride," Doornbos added. "And then I got going in my IndyCar, and I was really quick the first day and the next day, as well. I think we got a little bit too excited because Arie said I probably didn't need him anymore, and then we took off too much downforce and we crashed."
Doornbos, driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, persevered. But, thanks to a 3½-hour rain delay in Saturday's qualifying, and a gusty wind, it wasn't easy.
"Here, it's such a long track and with the wind picking up you feel like every lap is a new adventure," he said. "Every lap is a new adventure because the wind is coming from different angles. It's a tough four laps."
While the field is now filled, it is not final. The slowest drivers can be bumped out by faster qualifiers on Sunday, the last day of time trials.
Nelson Philippe wound up the slowest qualifier at 218.032. He was sitting in his car in the qualifying line, waiting to make another try, when the gun ending the session went off with fellow Indy rookie Stanton Barrett on the track.
Barrett's first three laps were quick enough to bump the Frenchman out of the lineup, but he slowed on his final lap and Philippe was able to breathe a sigh of relief -- for the moment.
"I'm not too worried," Philippe said. "We've got a little more in the car and tomorrow is supposed to be a good day. If we get knocked out, we'll just go out there and try to get back in."
Philippe, who crashed in practice last Saturday and admitted to scaring himself in his car on Thursday, was feeling a lot better after his qualifying run.
"I'll be honest: I used to think, 'Well, it doesn't look that complicated.' I got out here, and it's pretty difficult," he noted. "When you're coming up at a straight wall at 220 miles per hour, it's pretty freaky. But now I'm an oval driver who's crashed, and I look forward to not crashing anymore."
Thanks mostly to the conditions, none of the third-round qualifiers was able to surpass the 221.956 of Davey Hamilton, the slowest of the 22 in the first two days of time trials.
Also qualifying Saturday were Alex Tagliani at 220.553, Tomas Scheckter at 220.212, Mike Conway at 220.124, E.J. Viso at 219.971, Ryan Hunter-Reay at 219.502, John Andretti at 219.442 and Milka Duno at 218.040.
Duno, joining first-weekend qualifiers Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher in the field for the second straight year, bumped out 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier, who had posted a disappointing 216.487 earlier in the day.
Lazier, Barrett and 2002 Indy pole-winner Bruno Junqueira, who didn't get his ride until Friday and has yet to get onto the track, will have six hours on Sunday to bump their way into the field.
Drivers who are bumped can then try to requalify. Each entry has up to three chances on each day of time trials. Even Andretti, third on the bump list, wasn't feeling very comfortable.
"Tomorrow is supposed to be better weather conditions and, if it is, we're definitely in the center of the target," he said. "There are a few people who probably won't sleep real well tonight."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press