The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

The Callahan Report from Indianapolis, May 18

18 May 1997

Scott Harrington Crashes As Track Closes

INDIANAPOLIS (6:00 PM): In an outstanding and dramatic effort, Scott Harrington crashed in turn two while on a qualifying run for the 81st Indy 500.

Safety crews worked well past the track closed removing Harrington from the car. He had very hard impact as he lost control at the apex of the turn. The car did a three quarter spin and head on into the wall. Harrington is reported to be awake and alert. He has been transported to Methodist Hospital.

Harrington had just done a lap of over 214 mph in an attempt to qualify for the race.

IRL Press Conference: 35 Starters At Indy.

The Indy Racing League held a press conference just after the track closed. Rumors were flying all day about the league adding a twelfth row to the race. This would essentially eliminate the 25/8 rule that caused heartache since its inception last year.

As reported earlier, the 25/8 rule has forced two of the Ron Hemelgarn cars out of the race. Two of the Hemelgarn cars had qualified faster than many of the cars in the field, but the cars did not have IRL points. Twenty-five spots were supposed to be reserved for the top IRL point holders.

The IRL has decided to start 35 cars. Leo Mehl, executive director of the IRL, stated "we must start the fastest 33 cars, in order to do that, we will start 35 cars".

So, today's speed show was nothing more than that.... a show. All cars that made qualifying runs are in the race.

It is good to see drivers like St. James and Unser in the race. The way they have entered the race looks bad for the IRL rules makers.

Late Afternoon Update

INDIANAPOLIS (5:35 PM): The track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dried quickly. The weather man is looking to crawl into a hole and hide. After a quick shower, the asphalt at the speedway is now covered with Firestone and Goodyear tires. Cars are blazing the tack as qualifications and practice for the 1997 Indy 500 draws to a close.

The field is full. Some last ditch efforts are being thrown together. Scott Harrington made a few laps in the car purchased from A.J. Foyt before it started to smoke. The problem was quickly fixed and the car is back on the track. An example of the quick work going on is shown below. Notice the Firestone stickers on the car...they clash with the Goodyear tires.... interesting. Harrington needs a speed of 210.5 mph to break into the field. He turned a lap of 210 mph at 5:30 PM.

Harrington Scott Harrington With Firestone Stickers/Goodyear Tires

It's Bump Day At The Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS (2:30 PM): Today is the most exciting bump day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in recent memory.

In less that ten minutes, Ron Hemelgarn's team went from having three cars in the field to only one in the big show. Under very dark skies, Claude Bourbonnais took to the track in his Blueprint Racing/Jacuzzi car for a qualifying attempt. His first lap was too slow to knock Johnny Unser, driving for Hemelgarn, from the field. The next three laps by Bourbonnaise left little doubt that the bright purple car of Johnny Unser was going to be bumped from the field. Claude was in....Unser was out.

Bourbonnaise Claude Bourbonnaise

Then it was Alessandro Zampedri's turn. The tough luck Italian, Zampedri had been bumped from the field about an hour earlier. His hard fought recovery from injuries sustained in a last lap accident in last year's race seemed to be for nothing. Zampedri was not about to let that happen. Lyn St. James, another Hemelgarn driver, was the next driver on the bubble list. Alessandro punched the Mi-Jack backup car into the field in convincing style. His first lap was over 214 mph. His four lap average was over 211 mph. The outside of his visor started filling up with raindrops....the inside with teardrops. As he crossed the finish line for the last time, the yellow light came on. It is raining in Indianapolis.

Zampedri Alessandro Zampedri

Along with all the jubilation comes heartache. There is no Unser in the race this year. We will not hear the command "Lady....and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines". Both Unser and St. James are worthy competitors. They were caught by the IRL 25/8 rule. They were not the slowest cars in the field, but the rule reserves the top twenty five spots in the race for the IRL regulars. Unser and St. James do not have IRL points. This would have been their first IRL race this year. Thankfully, this is the last year for the 25/8 rule.

The rain for now is light. This show may not be over. Scott Harrington is in a car (from A.J. Foyt...see story below) that has the power to get into the May 25th race.

Scott Harrington Switches To Foyt Backup Car

INDIANAPOLIS (1:45 PM): In another surprise move involving A.J. Foyt, Stefan Johansson Motorsports has worked out a deal to buy the number 14T Power Team/A.J. Foyt race car. Scott Harrington will be in the car originally entered as a backup for Davey Hamilton. The crew from Stefan Johansson Motorsports is preparing the car to attempt qualifications later today. They are in a big race with the weather man as the skies begin to darken around the speedway.

Crash Report: Sam Schmidt

INDIANAPOLIS (1:34 PM): Sam Schmidt spun his Blueprint/Hope Racing car going into turn three at 1:30 PM this afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The car did not make contact with the wall. There was smoke coming from the back of the car going down the backstretch. The car did a 360 degree spin, barely missing the wall in turn three. Schmidt was uninjured.

Foyt Surprises

INDIANAPOLIS (1:15 PM): The rough but likable A.J. Foyt turned heads today. He said over the last couple of days that he will not put anyone in the number one Conseco car that was crashed by Scott Sharp (twice) and Johnny O'Connell (once). The car made a track appearance this afternoon with Paul Durant as the driver.

The Auto Channel reported this story as rumor yesterday. After twelve practice laps, Foyt and Durant put the car in the qualification tech inspection line. The car has exempt status. Durant needed a four lap average of 203 mph to make the field. Durant did a great job qualifying the car at over 209 mph, bumping Alessandro Zampedri from the field. Johnny Usner, who qualified earlier this afternoon, is next on the bump list.

Paul Durant Paul Durant

It is expected that Scott Sharp will be cleared to drive later this week. If so, Sharp will jump into the car for the race. The car will already be in the 33rd starting position, so a driver change will not effect the starting position (provided there are no more qualifiers today). If Sharp is not cleared to drive, Durant will remain in the driver's seat.

1997 Indy 500 Field Is Full
Unser In The Race...Or Is He...

INDIANAPOLIS (12:45 PM): It didn't take long. There were two spots open when the track opened for qualifications at noon. Twenty minutes later, the field for the 1997 Indy 500 was full.

Johnny Unser was the first out in his Hemelgarn racing/Delta Faucet/Cinergy/Infiniti. He posted a four lap average in the 209 mph range and was supposed to be locked into the race. Reports from Johnny Unser Racing state that the car will not use the Hemelgarn Racing exemption. Unser is part of the first family at Indy. His father, Jerry Unser, was the first of the famous brothers to race at Indianapolis. Johnny's uncles, Al Unser Sr. and Bobby Unser, have won the big race a total of seven times. His cousin, Al Unser Jr. has won the race twice. Johnny is proud to keep the Unser name running at Indianapolis. His Uncle (Al) works for the Indy Racing League as a driving coach. This will be Johnny Unser's second race at Indianapolis. He made the race last year but mechanical problems put him out even before the green flag fell.

Johnny Unser Johnny Unser

Greg Ray, in the Ash Kicker/Tobacco Free Kids car showed that his race motor was as strong as his qualifying motor. He was consistent on all four laps. His speeds ranged from 213.6 to 213.9 mph for the ten mile run.

Claude Bourbonnais is in a race today. He is on the track working up to speed in the Blueprint Racing/Jacuzzi car. He had good speed yesterday before an accident. He has already turned a lap of over 210 mph in practice this afternoon. That speed is good enough to bump into the field. He will have to beat the rain that is expected around 2:00 PM if he is bumped.

The Race With Mother Nature

INDIANAPOLIS (11:30 AM): Many of the teams and drivers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wish they had a direct connection with the rain gods today. There are two spots open in the field for the 81st Indy 500. The final round of qualifications for the great race begins at noon. Rain....heavy rain, is expected to roll into the speedway area around 2:00 PM. This leaves little time for teams to get the most out of their cars.

One of the teams still searching is Stefan Johansson Motorsports (SJM). Their driver finally made a track appearance late Thursday. The car is making progress but the speed of the Infiniti powered car is slow, to put it mildly. Scott Harrington had the car up to 205 mph this morning in practice. The "bump" speed right now is Alessandro Zampedri's 209 mph.

Scott Harrington Scott Harrington

And then we have Claude Bourbonnaise. He was traveling fast enough to make the show all this week. He smacked the turn two wall yesterday. The car was repaired overnight and made laps this morning just to shake the car down. He needs more practice time to make sure the car is ready to qualify.

It will be a race today. It is a race with mother nature.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel