Three Indianapolis 500 teams -- Ed Carpenter Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Panther+Dreyer & Reinbold Racing -- defied that ill-informed belief over the weekend. All of them had to scramble overnight to either repair their primary car or prepare a backup so their drivers could put them in the field today for next Sunday's race (11 a.m. ET, ABC).
The Panther/DRR gang saw their driver, Oriol Servia, spin out and wreck near the entrance of pit road on Saturday as he warmed up for a qualifying run. However, the incident looked worse than it really was according to team co-owner Robbie Buhl.
"We didn't get into the side pods of the car," said Buhl, who watched as Servia qualified 27th today in the rebuilt primary entry. "The undertray wasn't too bad. The guys had the car back together by 11 last night, and we were out of here. I would say we were pretty lucky, all things considered."
"We had to make up some parts last night at our shop...But all in all, we gathered up all the parts."
SFHR also dodged having to roll out a backup car on Sunday for Bryan Clauson, who crashed his No. 39 Honda on the final lap of his qualifying attempt Saturday. The two-time USAC champion took it relatively easy on his attempt today and will start 31st in the '500.'
Fisher's husband and team general manager Andy O'Gara said that the team had to pull parts off their third car (which was back at their team shop) and get new pieces from the nearby factory of chassis maker Dallara in order to repair the No. 39 -- which emerged Sunday morning with a Band-Aid decal on one of its sidepods.
"We went from the middle of [Saturday] afternoon until the middle of the night, probably 3 to 4 a.m. [Sunday morning]," said O'Gara. "We got most of it done [at the track]."
His wife and boss couldn't be prouder of the team for pulling through.
"I think it's another testament as to how great our group is," said Fisher. "They're all very talented, they think outside the box, and they have the ability to contribute in more ways than their job titles. They are a very passionate group. They want to see Bryan have a very successful month of May.
"Some of the guys just went home, took showers and came back. It was a very long night."
As for Carpenter's crew, his primary car was too badly damaged in his Saturday crash and that forced the preparation of the No. 20T backup machine. According to the team, the backup began taking shape around 4 p.m. Saturday, with wiring, assorted parts, rear end assembly, gearbox, decals, and engine added to the car as the night wore on.
At 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, the team broke for some well-earned sleep before returning to the track at 6 a.m. to put the car on its set-up pad. Roughly eight hours later, the No. 20T had qualified for the '500.' Carpenter will line up 28th on race day.
"More than anything, I'm just really proud of the effort that the team put in," said Carpenter, the IZOD IndyCar Series' sole driver/owner. "It's been an ugly month, but they've stuck behind me and stuck together and built a pretty good T-car for me."
With bumping not in the cards Sunday, many teams got to work on race set-ups after the final nine positions on the grid were filled. But before they did the same, Panther Racing had some important matters to take care of on Armed Forces Day.
The National Guard-sponsored team conducted a video uplink with troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. Later in the morning, team owner John Barnes, Indiana National Guard Adj. Gen. Martin Umbarger and Indiana Gold Star Families placed an emblem for the Westfield, Ind.-based Fallen Hoosier Heroes Memorial on J.R. Hildebrand's No. 4 Chevrolet.
"Seeing the Soldiers today in Afghanistan was a humbling reminder of what’s going on in the world today," said Hildebrand, who qualified 18th on Saturday. "For me, that’s something that keeps all of us at Panther Racing grounded.
"Sometimes, we’re out here and we think we’ve had a bad day, and then we see everybody out here and we realize there are a lot of other things going on that we need to pay attention to and be more respectful of."
In addition to Panther's events, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted a traditional Armed Forces swearing-in ceremony. It was performed by Richard Lugar for the last time as a U.S. Senator; the Indiana Republican was defeated in a party primary earlier this month.
"I feel like I'm a plank-owner in this event, and I hope we will have an opportunity to participate for many years to come," said Lugar, who has performed the ceremony at the Speedway for over three decades.
"We won't be able to be here on Race Day, but we've had some great experiences here on Race Day. We'll be watching it on television this time and keeping track of all the excitement."
Some numbers to chew on regarding this year's Indy field:
- There are a combined 103 previous Indy 500 starts across this year's grid. The record is 260, set in both 1987 and 1992.
- Jean Alesi, who will start 33rd in the race, is the oldest rookie in Indy 500 history. He will be 47 years, 351 days old on Race Day. The previous oldest rookie in Indy 500 history was Jack Hewitt, who made his debut in 1998 at 46 years, 320 days.
- There are 16 veterans of the Indy Lights development series in this year's field (11 of them came up through the INDYCAR-sanctioned version, the current Firestone Indy Lights).
- Dario Franchitti has led more laps at the '500' than any other driver in this year's field, with 306 circuits at the front.
Quotes/materials taken from series trackside reports and team releases were used in the making of this article.
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