|A lot of drama at the end of the day!
At noon we headed for the grandstands. Today was ‘Bump Day’ and it promised to be exciting. There are 37 cars entered this year and only 33 will start the race. The top 24 qualified on Saturday. The goal today was to fill the nine remaining spots in the starting line-up - then it would get crazy.
First car out was John Andretti who qualified with ease. He was followed by Sarah Fisher who qualified faster than Danica Patrick but had to settle for a position in the bottom nine for not doing it yesterday. One by one the rest of the empty spots were filled and when the session ended rookie Sebastian Saavedra was on the bubble in 33rd position.
The four drivers still not qualified were Milka Duno, Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan and Jacques Lazier. Duno and Sato had qualified in earlier sessions but were bumped by faster cars. Kanaan crashed his car on Saturday’s first qualifying lap, and this morning he crashed his back-up car in exactly the same place on the first lap of practice. His crew was working feverishly to get the car repaired in time for the last session in the afternoon. Lazier is a new driver who was hired by A.J. Foyt to take over for his grandson after they had an argument. Lazier is the brother of former Indy winner Buddy Lazier.
For the rest of the afternoon everyone tried to improve their car's handling, waiting for the track to cool down. The day was sunny and hot and when the track is hot it's slower and more dangerous. Even the best drivers were struggling to keep their cars off the wall, and nobody was turning very good times. Kanaan’s crew got his car going and he came out for a number of practice laps, but they kept taking it back to the garage and working on it all afternoon. By about 5:00 the stage was set for a wild and crazy final hour of qualifying. Once Kanaan got in line to qualify everyone rushed to also get in line - guessing where they might need to be to improve their time if need be. Even cars that where well up the qualifying order got in line and were pulled out of line by the officials as there was no need for them to be there.
First car out was Tony Kanaan who finally qualified in 30th position, bumping Sebastian Saavedra off the board and dropping Mario Romancini to the bubble. Romancini went back out and this time he qualified 27th, dropping Jay Howard to the bubble. It was Takuma Sato’s turn, and this time the rookie qualified 30th, knocking Jay Howard off and moving Paul Tracy to the bottom of the board.
Saavedra went out to try again, but this time he crashed. Now he was down two positions and he couldn’t even go out and try to get them back. It looked like the end of his hopes - but all was not lost. Paul Tracy finding himself on the bubble panicked and went out to qualify again. In doing this he was rolling the dice because he had to throw out his previous times. If he didn’t qualify fast enough this time he would be out and Howard would be back in - which is exactly what happened. It turned out to be a very bad mistake.
Now Jay Howard was back in but he too was faced with a dilemma. Paul Tracy was behind him wanting to go out and try again and there was only time enough in the session for one more car. If Tracy went out and did better this time Howard would be bumped again and would have no time to go out and try to get it back. He also panicked and decided to go out himself to keep Tracy from doing it. It turned out to be another bad mistake. He failed to qualify, the gun ending the session went off, and it was all over for Tracy and Howard. Sebastian Saaveda was back in the race.
Saaveda learned of his good fortune at the hospital, where he was being checked out after his crash. He saw his crew on TV and they were jumping up and down and waving their arms. He could hardly believe his good fortune. Dale Earnhardt said, “You win some, you lose some and you wreck some.” Sebastian Saaveda found out you can wreck some and still be a winner, at least for today.
When the dust settled it was the closest qualifying starting lineup in Indy history, with only 3 seconds separating the top car from the bottom. A record four women will be starting and two of them are rookies who beat out some seasoned old timers. The race on Sunday should be one for the record books in more ways than one.