Katherine Legge secures spot in 500
INDIANAPOLIS -- There was no Bump Day drama at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as qualifications concluded for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The final nine places in the 33-car field were filled within an hour of when qualifying started at noon local time. The only question was whether the 34th entry -- driven by Michel Jourdain Jr. for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing -- could find enough speed to best Katherine Legge's 223.176 mph average.
The answer was an emphatic no, as the RLL crew was unable to locate the source of a handling imbalance in Jourdain's No. 17 Dallara/Honda. Graham Rahal, the team's lead driver, ran a few laps in Jourdain's car and confirmed that the car was "impossible" to drive.
RLL ran James Jakes' setup on the car early in the day, and Jourdain was unable to run around Indianapolis' 4-cornered, 2.5-mile layout flat out. Stuck at 219 mph, they installed Graham Rahal's setup, but it produced no improvement.
"I knew right away the car didn't feel very good, but when you only drive once a year, you don't really know what to expect," said Jourdain, who competed in Indy cars with 152 starts from 1996 to 2004, including two wins in the CART-sanctioned series in 2003. The 38-year-old Mexican then raced sports cars and stock cars for a few years but came out of semi-retirement to compete at Indianapolis last year, finishing 19th.
"We struggled all week, and some days it felt like the car was getting a little better, but the speed wasn't there," he added. "We tried different setups on the car -- exactly the same down to the steering wheel -- but no matter what, the car was impossible to drive flat through Turn 4.
"We changed whatever we had time to and tried everything to make it go quicker, but there was obviously something wrong with the car. We just couldn't figure it out. I feel sad because the guys worked hard and my sponsors trusted me, and it's not like I have another race to look forward to next weekend."
Legge, whose Indy car career was seemingly derailed earlier this year when she was abruptly dropped by Dragon Racing, put together a package to run Indianapolis in the Schmidt/Peterson car originally intended for 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.
"It's not nice that Michel didn't have the opportunity to try to get into the field, but I am glad I made it -- I'm not going to lie about that," Legge remarked. "It's been a long few days, but I'm going to sleep well tonight.
"It's a relief, but I do genuinely feel really bad for Michel, because I can't imagine what's going through his head."
"We actually tried really hard to put together a deal to run [Legge] the full season in 2011, but, prior to this morning, we had not ran her before," Schmidt said on the NBC Sports Network telecast. "I think before Lap 5 she was completely flat out and all-in. She could easily go back out and qualify at 224.5 if she needed to, but it's not worth the risk.
"My heart goes out for Bobby [Rahal] and Michel."
Legge and Jourdain both put together last-minute entries to compete at Indianapolis, and despite running only about 20 practice laps, Legge was able to get up to speed quickly for Schmidt/Peterson Motorsports.
She was the ninth and last driver to run in an early flurry of qualifying activity that resulted in the field being filled by 12:53 p.m.
Josef Newgarden, driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, was the day's fastest qualifier at 225.731 mph.