Ganassi doesn't mind lending a helping hand to Kite
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chip Ganassi is bridging the open-wheel
rivalry between CART and the Indy Racing League. He's also making
some new friends.
Ganassi, a former driver whose race shop is barely more than a
lap's distance from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was the only
CART owner to bring his regular drivers to the Indianapolis 500.
Once Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser were safely in the lineup,
Ganassi sold a backup car to the IRL's Blueprint Racing for Jimmy
Kite, who had wrecked his own car before qualifications.
"With them coming in here from CART and them being the
outcasts, it shows what a class act they are," Kite said. "I knew
that was the only chance with one of our cars, because our backup
was a '99. I've got to thank them for giving us the opportunity
they didn't have to give us."
The 84th Indy 500 will be on Sunday. The track is closed until
race day except for a final two-hour practice Thursday.
Kite, driving a car originally entered as a backup for Vasser,
qualified at 220.718 mph, putting him on the inside of the ninth
"We had nothing but confidence coming into this race. All week
long, the confidence was building," Kite said. "I'm just as
confident to run the race in this (Ganassi) car."
Montoya, the defending CART series champion but a rookie at
Indy, qualified on the middle of the front row, between defending
IRL champion and pole-starter Greg Ray and Eliseo Salazar.
Vasser, the 1996 CART champion who drove at Indy for four years
before the series' boycott of the IRL, qualified on the inside of
the third row. The only other CART owner to enter Indy this year is
Derrick Walker, who is running the IRL series with rookie Sarah
Fisher but not his regular CART driver, Shinji Nakano.
Ganassi, who drove in the 500 five times in the early and
mid-1980s, became a team owner by purchasing an interest in Patrick
Racing in 1988. The team won the Indy 500 and the CART championship
with driver Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989, and Ganassi became full
owner of the team in 1990.
He has also fielded cars for Arie Luyendyk, Eddie Cheever,
Michael Andretti and Alex Zanardi, who won CART championships in
1997 and 1998 before leaving for Formula One.
"Yeah, I'm certainly doing better at this owner stuff,"
Ganassi said. "It's nice to be able to give these young guys a
chance. Our shop is three miles from here. Our team is based here
and we've built up a lot of good relationships."
For a while, it appeared that several other CART teams would
cross over to race at Indy, but expenses estimated at $1 million
per team scared off all but Ganassi and Walker. A rumored
reconciliation between the two series also never developed.
Cheever, who qualified on the inside of the fourth row, right
behind Vasser, said he welcomed "with open arms" the rivals from
"Nobody owns the Indianapolis 500 race. It is where the best of
open-wheel racers come to compete," Cheever said. "They are the
best in the other series and have come here to compete."
Fisher, 19, the youngest driver in the lineup, is the third
woman to qualify at Indianapolis. She will start on the inside of
the seventh row, right behind 1996 winner Buddy Lazier.
Lyn St. James, 53, the oldest driver, crashed on Saturday but
qualified a backup car Sunday and will start from the middle of the
11th and final row. It is the first time two women are in the
lineup at Indy.
"I am proud of Sarah Fisher," said St. James, who operates a
driver development school Fisher attended four years ago. "Sarah
started when she was 5 years old. ... She came the right way up.
Society has changed the way parents think (about girls racing).
"She realized she had to go fast. But not all fast drivers come
to Indy. What Sarah learned was she had to do more than go fast."