News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 23, 2011

MARCO, DANICA MAKE THE CUT

This year, question at Bump Day is who’s not in

Lori Wood
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Every year on Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the question is “Who will make it?”

The question this year was who wasn’t going to make it in the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500. When it was all over, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick were in. Teammates Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay were out.

Four IRL series regulars will not appear in the historic race. Raphael Matos and James Jakes also were bumped from the field and could not find enough speed to get back in. For Andretti Autosports the 100th Indy 500 will be memorable for the wrong reasons.

“As an owner this is the worst day ever,” said Michael Andretti. “I feel so bad for Ryan and Mike, but so happy for Marco.”

Alex Lloyd, who could not find speed all day, put in a run of 223.957 for Dale Coyne Racing, knocking Marco Andretti out of contention.

“We came back, but we didn’t have the car. All we had time for was tire pressure,” Lloyd said. He gave it all it had, and was good enough. “I got as brave as I could with the tools. I couldn’t see. My vision was gone because the engine was shaking so bad.” 

Before he went out for that final run, Lloyd felt he had just a one- to two-percent chance of making it. “I never gave up hope. It’s Indianapolis. It’s the greatest race in the world,” he said.

Time simply ran out, nearly catching Marco Andretti with it.

“All we wanted was a chance. It looked for awhile that it was up to Mother Nature,” the younger Andretti said.

Dale Coyne Racing called off Jakes when it was evident he would not make speed, but Marco Andretti had just a few seconds to make it out onto the track before the 6 p.m. deadline. He pushed the car to its limit with four laps solidly over 224, averaging 224.628.

“Either we were going to be in the wall or in the show,” he said afterward. He was in the show, but at the expense of teammate Hunter–Reay, whom he bumped from the field.

Nearly in tears, Hunter-Reay — a fan favorite since he entered the IRL series — could hardly find the words to describe his absence from this year’s race. “We just ran out of time,” he said. “I just can’t even fathom this. It’s just heartbreaking. I can’t even comprehend it.”

Hunter-Reay was just 23rd in the points so far this season, but Conway sat fourth in the points after a win at Long Beach.

As soon as qualifying began at noon, Ana Beatriz and Graham Rahal quickly took their runs as rain seemed imminent. They were the only to make runs before a shower put a hold on the afternoon.

When qualifying resumed, cars went out one after the other, knowing another rain was on its way. First Matos  then Ryan Briscoe, Lloyd and Pippa Mann put themselves into the field. Charlie Kimbal, Hunter-Reay and Conway completed the field.

Marco Andretti put in a run at 223.688, pushing Matos from the lineup. Patrick was scheduled next, but her car did not pass technical inspection initially, which then lined her up behind Paul Tracy. Tracy put in the fastest four-lap average of the day at 224.939, bumping Conway.

“When I started lap 3, I could see a mist on my visor. What else can happen to me,” said Tracy.

Just one lap later he erased the memory of missing last year’s race. “This track has dealt me a pretty tough deck in my career, but the monkey’s off of our back now,” he added.

As Patrick prepared to leave pit lane Brian Barnhart, President of Competition and Racing Operations, called for a yellow flag as the rain began to fall. At nearly 3 p.m. it seemed Patrick would not even have a chance to qualify for her seventh Indy 500. But by 4:45 the track was dry, and Patrick left pit lane, determined to make the field.

She turned in a qualifying average of 224.861, placing her solidly in the race. “I skipped my 30s and went to my 40s in age this weekend. For me, the apocalypse was today. We built some drama for Bump Day,” she said after her run.

Although happy for Patrick and Andretti, Conway found the situation hard to take. “It’s a tough break – both me and Ryan not in the show. I’m pretty gutted. Danica spent some time with me, putting me back together, after I got back to the garage. I’m obviously happy for Danica, Marco and John to be in, but gutted for me and Ryan. I never wanted to experience this feeling. You see it happen every year, and you hope it’s not you. It’s not nice.”

Joining Lloyd in the last row are Mann and Beatriz.

“Well, we finally cured the speed problem we had. We’ve cured our handling issues. We made so many changes overnight. This morning we weren’t happy with the car at all. I went out there with no idea of what I was going to have going into that run. I went into it and said, ‘OK, this will work,’ ” said Mann. She is one of four women in this year’s field.