Bobby Rahal, driving his backup car, claimed the unofficial record for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a 214.183 m.p.h. clocking in Thursday’s practice session for the Indianapolis 500.
Rahal, who finished seventh in last year’s Indy 500, had a lap of 212.114 earlier in the day as he and the other drivers sought that little extra speed that could make the difference when qualifying for the May 26 race begins Saturday.
“I would say right now we’re going to run the T (backup) car,” said Rahal after his quick lap in one of the Truesport Team’s Budweiser-sponsored Marches. “I’m glad it worked out as well as it did. We’re obviously ready to go.”
Rahal, 32, believes his team can still find more speed in the Cosworth-powered car.
“I’m certain 215 is within reach. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but we can make it,” he said. “It (the quick run) felt really good. We’re real close to it (maximum performance). We’re not at the end of the rope but we’re near there.”
Before Thursday, the sixth day of practice, Rahal’s best practice time was the 212.414 he recorded in his No. 1 car. That time duplicated the previous unofficial track record set last year by Mario Andretti.
“There’s not much difference between the two cars, just a little difference in suspensions and aerodynamics,” Rahal said. “I could be comfortable in either car, but I’m a little happier with the one I used today.”
Andretti’s 1984 time was bettered by three drivers earlier this week. Defending champion Rick Mears completed a lap on the 2.5-mile oval at 213.371 on Wednesday. Roberto Guerrero of Colombia, last year’s race runner-up went 212.816 on Tuesday, and veteran Pancho Carter recorded a 212.464 lap Wednesday.
Official records can only be set during qualifying or in the race. Tom Sneva set the one-lap record of 210.689 last year--a speed that was topped by 11 drivers since practice began last Saturday.
Scott Brayton was second fastest in his March powered by a Buick V6 at 212.464, followed by Bill Whittington, 212.414 in a Lola-Cosworth, with Mario Andretti and Danny Sullivan next with identical laps of 212.014. Sullivan lost an engine that halted action during the final hour of practice.
However, A.J. Foyt made his first appearance of the day in the final hour and got his March-Cosworth up to 209.309, an improvement of more than 6 m.p.h. for the four-time winner who is seeking his 28th start in the race.
The drivers will have one more full day of practice today before the 10-mile qualification attempts, with the car recording the fastest four-lap average speed Saturday winning the pole for the 33-car field on May 26.
Sneva’s year-old qualification records for one and four laps will be shattered on Saturday; the only question is by how much, according to a survey of 29 drivers.
All forecast speeds well above Sneva’s one-lap record of 210.689 m.p.h. and four-lap average of 210.029.
Even Sneva expected his records to fall in qualifications for the pole position for the May 26 race. Sneva, the 1983 Indy winner, figured the top single lap on Saturday would be 215.281 m.p.h., with the fastest four-lap average at 214.200. He also said the slowest average speed to get into the race would be 202.001.
The most optimistic prediction for the top lap was by Al Unser Jr., who said it would be 217-flat. The son of three-time winner Al Unser also forecast a four-lap average of 214.500, with an average of 201.100 needed just to make the 33-car starting lineup.
The lowest prediction for the top lap was by Geoff Brabham, whose forecast was for 213.500, just slightly more than his four-lap prediction of 213.000. Brabham also predicted an average of 204.001 needed to make the race.
The predictions for the fastest four laps ranged from 212.100 by defending champion Mears to 215.700 by rookie Mike Nish. The predicted speed needed to get in the race ranged from 197.000 by Rahal to 205.000 by Mario Andretti and Herm Johnson.