Indy gets into high gear

INDIANAPOLIS – Qualifying to fill the 33 starting spots for the 98th Indianapolis 500 will begin today with the pole being fought for on Sunday.

Each of the 64 cars entered is guaranteed one qualifying attempt.

The daily charts show speeds over the 230 mph mark with last year’s polesitter Ed Carpenter leading the way during Fast Friday action.

Hanoverton’s Dave Humphrey said earlier in the week to look for 230 mph once full tubo-boost is unleashed on Friday and for weekend qualifying. Obviously he’s right on the mark.

Humphrey is managing the Penske merchandise trailer at the Speedway this month.

Live television coverage of qualifying will be aired on ABC from 4 to 6 p.m. today and from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Bump Day has been eliminated from the qualifying format this year.

All 33 positions will be filled on Saturday as the new format calls for filling positions 10-33 at the beginning of time trials with the nine fastest drivers competing for the pole position on Sunday.

NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch is one of the bigger stories along with the return of 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Montoya, 1995 winner Jacques Villeneuve and 1996 winner Buddy Lazier.

Montoya, from Columbia, left Indy cars for NASCAR while Villeneuve, a Canadian, went on to Formula 1 where he was the 1997 F1 world champ.

Busch is the 2004 Sprint Cup champ making this the first Indy 500 with at least one champion from Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR.

Busch plans on doing the Indy 500-Coca Cola 600 double.

The NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 (miles) is 400 laps and starts at 6 p.m. eastern time. The Indy 500 starts at noon and is expected to conclude by 3 p.m.

There is one female entered -Pippa Mann from England – and rookie Mikhail Aleshin is from Moscow.

There are nine American drivers entered including Dublin, Ohio’s Graham Rahal; Marco Andretti; J.R. Hildebrand; Carpenter; Townsend Bell; rookie Sage Karam, Josef Newgarden of Hendersonville, Tenn.; Charlie Kimball of Camarillo, Calif.; and Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indy 500 champ from Vail. Colo.

Carpenter clocked in with the top speed of 230.522 mph on Fast Friday followed by Helio Castroneves at 229.843 mph, Andretti was in with 229.419 mph, followed by J.R. Hildebrand at 229.384 mph, Josef Newgarden at 229.276 mph, while Montoya rolled out a 229.205 mph lap followed by Scott Dixon at 229.062 mph.

So four of Friday’s fastest were American drivers while Chevy engines powered Carpenter, Castroneves, Hildebrand, Montoya and Dixon. Honda is the other six-cylinder turbocharged powerplant being used.

Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, is driving a throw-back version of the 1980 race-winning Pennzoil “Yellow Sub” as preparations for the May 25 race head into today’s time trials.

Track activity included the debut of first-year participant James Davison while James Hinchcliffe, who was diagnosed with a concussion resulting from an incident during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10, was cleared to resume driving earlier this week.

One pratice crash occurred on Wednesday when Jack Hawksworth spun and crashed into a wall in Turn 3 near the of the day. He was OK.

Castroneves’ No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Team Penske car is one of many that has or will receive fresh Chevrolet or Honda engines for May 17-18 qualifications.

Full-season Verizon IndyCar Series entries are allotted four 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engines to cover the 18-race season, with a threshold of 2,500 miles between engine changes.