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The Callahan Report from Indianapolis, May 11

11 May 1997

Slow Day At The Track

INDIANAPOLIS: It was a good day to sit and watch fast cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. The only problem was that there weren't too many cars running.

Steve Kinser qualified at noon. After that, there was not a qualifying attempt made until fifteen minutes before closing. Greg Ray went out and did three laps right around 215 mph and then came in before the checkered flag. He had run out of fuel. After that, Robbie Groff went out and qualified at 207.792 mph. That is the slowest speed in the field. Billy Boat took out the Conseco sponsored car for A.J. Foyt. This is Scott Sharp's backup car. He toured the speedway a couple of laps and brought it in before taking the green flag.

A.J. Foyt Car Owner A.J. Foytfont size=-1>

There were only a handful of cars practicing today. The sun was bright but the wind was strong. That was just one of the reasons for the lack of activity on the track. Another reason is that teams are saving their limited supply of engines and engine parts. Still another reason is the fact that most of the teams have already qualified their primary cars. The biggest activity now is that of drivers looking to jump into backup cars. Track activity will pick up as drivers get seat assignments throughout the week. Those drivers, with limited practice, will attempt to qualify for the world's richest auto race next weekend.

It was a day when most drivers took the day off. In all, there were only eight cars on the speedway asphalt today. The drivers that were at the track spent the day chatting. The atmosphere was relaxed.

Qualifications will resume next Saturday at 11:00 AM CST.

It was still a decent day at the speedway. There were many families at the track. It is tradition for many families to come to the speedway on mother's day and just enjoy the day with the kids. Which reminds me.... happy mother's day, mom! Inside The Numbers: The Fastest Combination

INDIANAPOLIS: Trying to figure out the best chassis/engine/tire combination to be fast at Indy is as hard as staying out of a funeral home after skydiving without a parachute.

Engines: There are two manufacturers providing engines to the Indy Racing League. They are Oldsmobile (Aurora) and Nissan (Infiniti). Determining the fastest engine at Indy is easy. The first fifteen cars of the twenty-one qualified are powered by Oldsmobile Aurora. But, the points leader is Mike Groff. He uses an Infiniti.

Oldsmobile Nissan
Olds Aurora (left) and Nissan Infiniti (right)font size=-1>

The Infiniti engine is down on power at Indy and has been slow at the other two races this season, but it has obviously been reliable which must be considered for a 500 mile race. There have been many Auroras expire during practice this month already. But, Jim Guthrie, the winner at Phoenix ran almost a thousand miles on his Oldsmobile. For a shorter race, the Aurora may be the way to go, but for Indy....could the Infiniti reliability be the real consideration?

Chassis: The two chassis manufacturers for the IRL are Dallara of Italy, and G Force of Sussex, England. Riley and Scott of Indianapolis will begin providing a chassis this summer. There is a pretty equal mix of chassis entered this year. Twelve of the twenty-one already qualified cars are using the G Force chassis. The Dallara and G Force chassis appears in every row of the starting field. In the previous two races this year, one victory went to Dallara and the other to G Force. Choosing a winning chassis here at Indy is also a toss up.

Tires: Five of the fastest six cars are using Firestone tires. Five of the next six spots are occupied by Goodyear. Beyond that, there is an even mix of Firestone/Goodyear tires used by the qualified cars. The Menard team thought that the tires made a difference. John Menard's cars tested here at the speedway prior to May. They logged over 300 miles using Firestone tires. In a surprise move just before practice began, they switched to Goodyear. Later in the week they switched back to Firestone because they could not match the speeds they had attained during their many practice sessions. . The switch didn't work as their speeds remained the same. The tires seem to be equal (at least on the Menard cars).

The unique thing about these corporate battles for who's best is that all the manufacturers are sharing information. They are doing it for the sake of the success of the Indy Racing League. It is working. There is not a clear advantage by any chassis/engine/tire combination. This makes the league competitive and exciting to watch.

Sospiri: A Well Kept Secret

INDIANAPOLIS: Wearing street clothes last Saturday, Vincenzo Sospiri had to be introduced to the safety patrol that was guarding the gates of gasoline alley. Dick Simon escorted the young rookie through the gates and told the yellow shirted guards "this is my new driver and he's fast, very fast". The guards know the bright star from Monaco by sight now. On May25th, the entire world will know the name "Vincenzo Sospiri". He is starting his very first Indianapolis 500 from the front row.

Sospiri knows where he is. He understands the history associated with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As a race driver, he reacts appropriately. In slightly broken English, Sospiri was talking about how he feels when he walks through gates of the famed speedway. He said "I come through the tunnel and the bumps go up my spine". Sospiri said that he has wanted to race at Indianapolis since he first saw it on television when he was fourteen years old. It took sixteen years, but the man has made it...... and made it big.

The thirty year old driver could have very well remained "across the pond". He was the test driver last year for the Benetton Formula One team. He was a good one too. So good in fact, he was faster in testing than the main driver for that team. He stated that the "politics" in Formula One stopped him from moving into the primary seat for Benetton.

Sospiri says that his team has not ran too many laps at the speedway this month because of a lack of engines. He ran the car a little on Thursday and then again yesterday before qualifying for the front row with the third fastest speed.

Vincenzo said that The Indianapolis 500 is very popular in Europe. "I think what you most follow is Formula One, of course, and after that...or immediately equal to that is the Indy 500." He finished his comments by saying "I am very happy to be in this race".

Sospiri started racing go karts in 1981. In 1982, at the age of 15, he was the champion in the 100cc junior cadet class with 15 victories. He advanced to Indy through Formula Three and Formula 3000.

Steve Kinser Makes Indy Lineup

INDIANAPOLIS (12:30 PM): Track activity this morning looked like a ghost town compared to yesterday, when 21 cars qualified for the 81st Indianapolis 500.

There were only three cars on the track in the early morning practice session. Robbie Groff, Steve Kinser, and Greg Ray were the drivers making the early morning laps. Groff was the first in line for qualifying. He made a warmup lap but did not take the green flag.

Steve Kinser, the 14 time World Of Outlaws champion was next in line. He took the number 44 Sinden Racing One Call/Menards/Dallara/Aurora out and qualified with a speed average of over 210 mph. The most successful driver in the history of the Outlaws series passed his rookie test at Indy in 1981, but crashed just before qualifying. He had never returned to Indy until this year. He tested an IRL car for A.J. Foyt at Walt Disney World earlier this year.

Stever Kinser Steve Kinser qualifies for 81st Indy 500font size>

In other news this morning, it was announced that John Paul Jr. was released from Methodist Hospital at 11:30 AM today. He has casts on both legs and will be in a wheelchair for the next six to eight weeks. Paul crashed hard at the Speedway on Friday suffering a broken right leg and left heel.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel


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