Time running out for drivers still looking for speed

Published 2:18 am Friday, May 18, 2007

By By STEVE HERMAN, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Time is running out for Milka Duno, John Andretti and other drivers still looking for enough speed to make the Indianapolis 500.
Friday is the last full day of practice before the final qualifying sessions this weekend for the May 27 race.
Duno, a rookie from Venezuela whose open-wheel resume lists only a 14th-place finish at Kansas Speedway last month, crashed during practice last week and has struggled since.
Duno’s top speed, which came on the first day of practice, was just under 220 mph, about 1.5 mph slower than the slowest of the 22 who qualified last weekend. The final 11 spots will be filled Saturday and Sunday, leaving Duno in a shaky position unless she can find and fix what’s ailing her car, a four-year-old Dallara that has been updated to 2007 specifications.
Duno drove only eight laps Wednesday, her first day back on the track since her crash, and had a top lap of just over 169 mph.
On Thursday, she was out as soon as the track opened for practice, managed a top speed of just over 212 mph in the first 90 minutes and increased that to only 213.460 mph the rest of the day.
Others who have not yet qualified included Roger Yasukawa, who landed a ride with Dreyer &Reinbold Racing on Tuesday and jumped to more than 217 mph in his first extended practice, and Andretti, who joined Panther Racing on Wednesday and quickly reached 216 mph in his first appearance in an Indy car since 1994.
Andretti, a seven-time starter at Indianapolis, has driven mainly in NASCAR the past dozen years and was required to take the final two phases of a refresher test.
Another driver yet to qualify is veteran Stephan Gregoire, whose top lap was almost 218 mph shortly before his car went sideways and backed into the wall coming out of the first turn. The seven-time Indy starter was examined at the infield hospital and, complaining of pain in his back, was transferred to Methodist Hospital, where an MRI showed a fractured vertebra.
Gregoire, the fastest among the nine non-qualified drivers who practiced, was expected to be released from the hospital Friday.
Two-time winner Al Unser Jr., who qualified but was bumped last week, was next among the drivers who have not qualified, turning a lap at 217.590.
The fastest overall were Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon at 219.985 mph and Dan Wheldon at 219.773, both in their backup cars. Darren Manning was the only other driver over 219, while Tomas Scheckter had a lap at just over 218 mph.
Penske Racing teammates Sam Hornish Jr., the defending champion, and pole-winner Helio Castroneves, took their backup cars out for only a few warmup laps.
The five Andretti Green Racing drivers, all of whom were among the top 11 qualifiers last week, did not practice at all because of the chilly, windy weather.
The team is just about ready to race, anyway, he said.
The main job now?