The pressure is off the British entrants for the Indy500 – at least for a day or two – as all have now successfully qualified for the race.
Darren Manning, Justin Wilson and Alex Lloyd all safely joined Dan Wheldon on the starting grid on Saturday having set speeds high enough to keep them clear of trouble on bump day, when non-qualifiers get one last shot at entering the race at the expense of the slowest cars provisionally in the race.
Darren Manning felt he could have got the fastest time of the day – but he’ll happily take qualifying in 14th instead: “I’ve been struggling with my car all month, and that’s the best it’s been,” he said.
“The day’s not very nice with all this wind and the temperature has been getting up there, so we were a bit cautious on downforce. I had to actually come off the gas a little on Turn 2 on the last lap, which dropped me out of fastest for the day. But with the downforce we got in, you know, we’re nearly on race setup, so that really bodes well for the race.
“I’m pretty happy – we’ve got a pretty damn good car. If we had had this car on Pole Day, really trimmed out, we’d have been well in the top 11. It was that good. I think I’m going to be faster than the guys around me, and it’s a long race, so we should be all right.”
Justin Wilson will start on row six, having qualified 16th. Both he and Newman/Haas/Lanigan team-mate Graham Rahal felt that strong winds compromised their runs.
Wilson said: “It feels great to get the McDonald’s car into the race, but I know it had so much more in it. I felt like we had a lot more speed but just couldn’t get it out on that run.
“It was tough. Every corner was different and difficult. Turn 2 was the worst. Every time you turned in there, if felt like the front end was lifted off the ground and skated off the track. You’re reluctant to lift, but you have to, so you do a quick lift and back on.
“Both myself and Graham are used to running at the front but we’re here learning. We’ve come from a long way behind and if we can finish in the top 10 it would be like a victory for us considering where we started a few months ago.”
Alex Lloyd, who had looked good in practice until crashing heavily and ending up in hospital, announced his recovery with a confident drive to qualify 19th. He was the only driver who got faster through each of his four laps, but was still disappointed with the outcome.
He said: “Our speed today wasn’t really quick. Our first lap was the problem, we had the car just too loose. I had to lift in Turn 1, and I lost the momentum. We did well at pulling it back, but it would be nice if we could scrap Lap 1 and finish up with another lap at the end – we would have jumped up a few places.
“We were pretty conservative on downforce today. We figured that the main importance was getting the car in the show, and we don’t need to go for outright speed.”
He also talked about his crash: “When I was lying in the hospital bed Friday evening thinking ‘I wonder what happened? I don’t know,’ – that was the worst thing. Then I had my engineer come around, and he gave a few reasons that went wrong and that’s what caused the accident, and that made me feel better because I knew then, OK, that it wasn’t something that I went out and did. We just had a little bit of a setup imbalance.”
Jay Howard, of course, is out of the race, having been replaced by John Andretti under circumstances that sparked controversy. Andretti shook off any rustiness to qualify in 21st but team boss Marty Roth, who some say should have stood down in favour of a Howard-Andretti partnership, could only manage 33rd and last.
He’s currently in the race – but he faces a nervous bump day sat on the bubble, especially as Vision’s AJ Foyt IV has yet to qualify after gearbox problems ruined his day.