INDIANAPOLIS - Instead of concerning themselves with issues like tire bite and fuel mixtures, the drivers preparing for the 90th running of the Indy 500 spent most of yesterday worrying about isobars and stationary fronts.
The day went to the meteorologists, not the racers. The drivers from the IndyCar Series who spend a month here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway getting ready for their biggest race of the season never got on the track
because of a persistent rain.
They'll cross their fingers and hope for better weather today, so they can exercise one final practice session this morning before pole qualifying, scheduled to begin at noon.
Sam Hornish Jr., the Defiance native and Napoleon resident who is a two-time champion of the IndyCar Series, sits in the catbird seat going into the run for the pole after posting the fastest practice times for three straight days earlier this week.
Hornish, who qualified second last year at 227.273 miles per hour, ran a 226.789 lap Thursday despite lousy conditions produced by a cold, damp environment. His success so far has allowed him to put in less track time, since the need for
adjustments has been minimal.
"When you feel good about the car and the car is consistent, there's no reason to go out there and pound around and run 50 laps or whatever," Hornish said.
"But the big thing for us this month is that we've come in here after the test and felt real comfortable with what we were able to do. We can't control the weather, and we're just going to go out there and get the track time we need. If we're comfortable with the car, we'll park it and sit and watch and see what happens "
Hornish, who led last year's race six different times for a total of 77 laps but hit the wall on lap 147 and finished 23rd, said he is more confident this season with a Honda power plant in his car after running Toyota last season.
"Last year we definitely came in here and we felt that we were a little bit underpowered, but we didn't look at it like we couldn't win," Hornish said. "We figured we'd look at it like how do we give ourselves a chance to win the race. We had a lot of laughs, and we had a good-handling car, but I made a mistake three-quarters of the way through and it took that opportunity away."
In his seventh Indy 500, Hornish wants to be cautiously aggressive, and not do anything to take himself out of the race.
"The way I think that we look at it this year is that we have a great opportunity here," he said. "The big thing is how do you not trip yourself up - not to make any mistakes. You've seen in the past guys come here, and they were fast all month long and they didn't make it through the first 10 laps of the race.
"Then you've seen guys that did everything right on race day and won, and we've got to make sure that we keep all the right things going in the right order. We try to cross off as many of the things that could trip us up and get rid of those and just make sure that we don't make any mistakes. That's the big thing."
Hornish, has been taken out of the race three times by accidents, and once by engine failure.
"This track amplifies anything - if you make a mistake, it's amplified 10 times more than any other track you can go to," he said. "You can go to another track, you have one slow turn, you might have lost position, but you can make it up. Here you make that one mistake, and it's done. At least that's how it's been for me."
Hornish, who sits third in the Indy Racing League points race after this season's first three events, has been on the pole once and started fourth in the other two races.
He has two top-five finishes, and has been in the top 10 in all three races. But his 14 career IRL victories and close to $10 million in career prize money all seem minor compared to winning an Indy 500.
"I don't think there's anything I ever wanted to do more than to win the Indy 500," Hornish said. "It's still the biggest race in the world. The 400,000 people, all of the heritage, the caliber of drivers running there - it is still a pretty big deal."
Qualifying is scheduled to continue tomorrow, with positions one through 11 in the 33-car field set today, and 12 through 22 determined in tomorrow's session. Qualifying continues next weekend before the final field for the May 28 race is set.39.76691 -86.14996