The grid for the 97th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race was set early Sunday for Bump Day. It took only an hour for nine of the ten remaining drivers to qualify on their first run and fill the grid. Then there was lots of time for open practice while the tenth driver, MICHEL JOURDAIN/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda decided about taking a run. And practice they did. A total of 2762 laps were run Sunday, by 34 cars. Could it be that many drivers were nearing the 2000 mile limit on their second engine and wanting a new, fresh engine for the race?
The last three rows are: JOSEF NEWGARDEN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda; GRAHAM RAHAL/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA/Dragon Racing Chevrolet; Rookie TRISTAN VAUTIER/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; ANA BEATRIZ/Dale Coyne Racing Honda; PIPPA MANN/Dale Coyne Racing Honda; Rookie CONOR DALY/A.J.Foyt Enterprises Honda; BUDDY LAZIER/Lazier Partners Chevrolet; and KATHERINE LEGGE/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
Rahal ran 123 laps in his own car, and five in Jourdain’s, in an effort to help diagnose why the car just would not pick up speed. At 5:44 pm, the decision was made not to make a qualifying attempt and an unhappy Jourdain was consoled by his wife.
A very disappointed, dispirited, sad Jourdain said later in a brief Media Conference that “It’s so hard because the guys tried so hard, but we struggled a lot. And some days it was feeling a little better, but it was just never really there. You know, this morning we tried JAMES JAKES’ setup, and it was impossible to drive. And then we tried Graham’s setup, but it felt exactly the same and we couldn’t drive it. We changed whatever we had time to, but it just felt the same and we couldn’t drive it.”
Jourdain said “This is my only race of the year, and everybody worked so hard and my sponsors and they trusted me with this and a very big project, lot of people coming from Mexico next week for this, so it’s hard.”
Jourdain obviously was in a world of hurt over his situation. Up until Friday afternoon, he was assured of a spot on the grid, despite his comparatively slower speeds, by virtue of the fact that there were only thirty-three nominated drivers who had been on track. Saturday morning a thirty-fourth entry emerged, to no one’s surprise – KATHERINE LEGGE of England, to run in the additional entry from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. She had been on site since Sunday, having come directly from Monterey Ca where she had raced the Delta Wing race car in the American Le Mans Race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The car was quickly made ready and personalized for Legge, who took it for its first run Sunday morning during the hour-long practice session. She borrowed a driver’s suit for the day. In all, she ran 50 laps, and qualified on her first attempt. She was on the bubble all afternoon, awaiting Jourdain’s decision to try and qualify, sitting for at least an hour all suited up in her borrowed basic black driver’s outfit in the hot Pit Lane, before finally getting the word that she need not go out again because Jourdain wasn’t going to qualify. “I was sweating and nervous. I must have lost about ten pounds.”
A very tired but happy Legge met briefly with the Media after Jourdain’s visit. She said she was absolutely gutted for him. “He must feel devastated. It’s never nice to get there like that. I feel sorry that Michel was having problems. I was kinda hoping for him that he would find the speed, and then it would be a fair fight.
“I only had 20 laps in the car before I qualified. The car wasn’t trimmed out or anything. When we came into today and we thought if we get 225, we’re in the show for sure; it’s comfortable. We trimmed out one stage, so we were nowhere near that these guys were running all week.
“I haven’t slept in like in three days. I’ll sleep tonight … after a glass of wine or two. It’s been a great day but it’s a great opportunity.
“My engineers have been phenomenal. Between the team, engineers, and the other drivers, I’ve haven’t had to do anything. The whole team has been amazing and supportive; I’m super impressed. I’m a happy camper.”
Legge said she’d originally talked with SAM SCHMIDT in 2011, and bugged him for awhile, putting my name on his radar. “Since things blew up for me at the beginning of the year, I was looking for an Indy 500 ride at least and maybe other races. I was traipsing around the paddock Sunday for Opening Day, talking with everyone. I will do more races as well with Delta Wing.”
When asked what she thought of her chances in the Sunday race, Legge said “Stranger things have happened. It’s going to be about being smart, going through the field. If we have a decent Carb Day, a top ten is possible.”