INDY 500: Battle of Champions; Ray Takes Indy Pole from Montoya
20 May 2000By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
INDIANAPOLIS: Greg Ray, the defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion made a daring run at 4:00 p.m. Saturday to take the 2000 Indy 500 pole from CART FedEx series champion, Juan Montoya. Ray, driving for Team Menard, nearly trashed his racer against the north short-chute wall on the third of his four qualifying laps. Ray never eased up. He continued the run and successfully moved Montoya to the second starting spot.
"I now know that I can hold my breath for 160 seconds," said Ray after his spectacular run. "I lost a weight before the first lap and picked up a terrible vibration. It vibrated the entire run. Every corner was...(motioning with hands)...blurry."
While many of the fans on hand were proud that an IRL driver was on the pole, Ray was more proud for his team than for the series.
"I hold all these guys in high regard," Ray said. "I don't care if it is Juan Montoya or Jimmy Vasser from CART or Robby Gordon from NASCAR or some of the guys from the dirt series'. I know they are all capable of winning. I know what I do on a Sunday afternoon, so I respect them."
Ray had attempted to qualify earlier in the day, but entered turn one too hard on cold tires. He had to let off the gas, ruining his initial qualifying effort.
"I was committed to turn one at 233 mph and the car went straight," said Ray. "I had to back off to keep it off the wall. There was no point in continuing the run at that point."
After running an afternoon practice lap of 223.998 mph, Ray pulled into the pits and into the qualifying line. Other drivers did the same. Ray was the fourth driver to make a qualifying attempt in a mid-afternoon spurt of action.
Buzz Calkins, Donnie Beechler, and Buddy Lazier joined Ray in the fury of afternoon activity. All drivers had made attempts earlier in the day, but opted for better weather conditions which usually occur late in the day.
Robby Gordon, teammate to Ray on the powerful and well-funded Team Menard, made a second attempt at 4:45 p.m. Gordon completed two laps before returning to the pits. He was not satisfied with the 221 mph range laps he was running. It was Gordon's second qualifying attempt.
Gordon returned to the track again at 5:15 p.m. for his third and final attempt in the number 32 car. He placed his Johns Mansfield sponsored Dallara Oldsmobile on the inside of the second row with 222.895 mph average. His four laps were the most consistent of the day.
Cold tires continued to cause major problems for Indy 500 competitors. Hideshi Matsuda and Lyn St. James were involved in horrifying accidents during their qualifying runs. Both accident occurred in turn one.
Lyn St. James was exiting turn one when the rear of her car broke loose and headed for the inside retaining wall. St. James hit the wall then the car turned on its side and back on its wheels before hitting the outside wall in turn two. St. James was stunned, but was checked at the medical center and cleared to drive.
Matsuda was involved in his second crash in as many days. He was also uninjured.
There were a total of five crashes attributed to the cold temperatures. The drivers were caught off guard when there was no grip in their tires. In addition to St. James and Matsuda, there were three other drivers who crashed during the day. Jimmy Kite, Scott Harrington, and Memo Gidley all were uninjured.
Qualifying attempts continued throughout the remainder of the day. By the end of the day, there were 23 qualifiers for the 2000 Indianapolis 500. The slowest qualifier was former CART and IRL driver, Richie Hearn, with a speed of 219.816 mph.
Joining Ray and Montoya on the front row is Eliseo Salazar. Drivers Robby Gordon, Scott Sharp, and Jeff Ward fill the second row.
Qualifying for the 84th Indy 500 continues Sunday from 12:00 noon until 6:00 p.m. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 will be contested on Sunday, May 28.