Rain forces teams to now focus on race setups over qualifying

Updated: May 11, 2008

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What should have been a busy Sunday at the track was anything but for the third time in a week.

Positions 12 through 22 on the grid were to be set Sunday for the 92nd running of the Indy 500 (ABC, May 25), with the final 11 Saturday and Bump Day on May 18. Now, the entire grid will have to be set Saturday (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET), with bumping still on tap the following day (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET).

In other words … ladies and gentlemen, start your race-day setups.

Much of the drama at Pole Day involved former Champ Car drivers and first-time 500 participants Graham Rahal, Will Power and Justin Wilson making last-hour qualifying attempts to crack the top 11. None were successful, but all averaged 222.5 mph or more for four laps on the 2.5-mile oval, speeds that would have comfortably landed their cars in the middle 11 spots in the field had qualifying continued Sunday.

Now they'll have to wait to claim starting positions, and while waiting, their focus will move toward where the top 11 qualifiers already are: preparing for 500 miles instead of 10.

"It's quite frustrating not being able to run today, but that's how it is. You can't change the weather," said Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's Wilson. "We [me and teammate Rahal] both realize how close we came to getting in the top 11, and that's quite an achievement considering where we started out. We are slowly making progress.

"As far as our agenda this week, I presume we'll validate a couple of little things we have changed on the car for qualifying and then switch over to race setup and make sure the car works well in traffic and is consistent over the longer runs. We need to split time; then we will switch it back for qualifying later in the week and get ready for Saturday qualifying."

Fellow Champ Car transition drivers Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia also shouldn't figure to have any trouble qualifying, but they could live without the stress of Indy's 10-mile qualifying format hanging over their helmets for another week.

"I know we have the speed to qualify, so it's no big deal," said KV Racing's Servia. "It just kind of screws with the planning. It complicates things. Also, the days that you don't run, they drain you. You're here working with engineers and you're in that room all day just talking, and you're here to drive and try things."

The middle week of the month of May has practice from Wednesday to Friday, a potential 18 hours in all to work on cars -- but look for Mother Nature to have some say in that. Compare that to the grand total of one hour allotted during race week, on Carb Day.

"Time's up," said driver/owner Sarah Fisher, 14th on the Saturday practice chart with a lap of 224.099 mph. "We don't have a whole lot of track time to be out there squandering around working on qualifying trim. There's just not enough time to do that. We have to make the best use of our time as we can, and it looks like we're going to look pretty good to compete in the race, so we're going to have to refocus our direction."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.



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