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MOTOR RACING / SHAV GLICK : 88 Cars Seeking 88 Answers at Indy This Year

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The countdown to the 75th anniversary Indianapolis 500 will begin Saturday when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens for practice leading toward the May 26 race.

Eighty-eight cars have been entered--down two from last year--but probably no more than 65 will actually take a lap on the 2 1/2-mile rectangular oval between Saturday and the race. The entry list is the shortest since 1987, when 76 were entered.

The field poses nearly as many questions as there are cars. Some of the more intriguing:

Can A.J. Foyt’s feet hold up long enough to qualify for a record 34th time?

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Foyt, 56, is still hurting from serious foot and leg injuries suffered in an accident last September at Elkhart Lake, Wis., and although he practiced for two days last month at Indianapolis and reached speeds in the 216 m.p.h.-range, he may not be ready. He had planned to test himself at Phoenix two weeks ago but decided against it and turned his ride over to Al Unser.

Can the Chevy “bow-tie brigade” be beaten?

Probably not. Chevy Ilmor-powered cars won all 16 CART/PPG Cup races last year and the first three this year. The best hopes against them are the Buick V-6, which gets a break in power at Indy with 55 inches of turbocharger boost allowed, as opposed to 45 inches for other engines, and Alfa Romeo.

Jim Crawford recorded the fastest pre-practice test lap at Indy this year at 224.2 m.p.h. in Kenny Bernstein’s Lola, which was designed to take the Buick V-6. Danny Sullivan, in an Alfa, had the fastest lap of the race in the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix and led several laps before the engine gave out.

Will another foreign driver win the 500?

Eleven foreigners from nine countries are entered, among them Hiro Matsushita, a rookie bidding to become the first Japanese starter. After 23 years without a foreign winner, Emerson Fittipaldi of Brazil scored in 1989 and Arie Luyendyk of Holland won last year.

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Will Willy T. Ribbs become the 500’s first black driver?

Ribbs, who made an abortive attempt in 1985 before dropping out of the United States Auto Club’s rookie orientation program, is back in a 1990 Lola-Cosworth entered by Derrick Walker, former Penske and Porsche team manager who was left without a team when Porsche pulled the plug on its Indy car program last year.

Ribbs drove in eight races last year but has not been in an Indy car this year, instead driving a Toyota for Dan Gurney’s IMSA team.

Will parity continue in the Indy car season?

After three races, there have been three winners: John Andretti in the Australian Gold Coast, Al Unser Jr. in the Long Beach Grand Prix and Luyendyk at Phoenix. There are plenty of impressive names still looking for 1991’s No. 1, such as former Indy 500 winners Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Mario Andretti and Fittipaldi.

Will Al Unser get a ride, and if he does, will he win No. 5?

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Unser, one of two four-time Indy 500 winners--Foyt is the other--was not nominated for a ride in the race May 26. But he was not nominated in 1987, either, and ended up subbing for injured Danny Ongais and winning his fourth race.

Can the powerful Penske team be shut out again?

Cars owned and prepared by Roger Penske’s team have won a record seven Indy 500s, starting in 1972 with the late Mark Donohue, but their best finish in the last two years was a third by Fittipaldi last year. In 1989, none of the three Penske cars even finished. This year they will have Mears, a three-time winner, and Fittipaldi, the 1989 champion who was driving for Pat Patrick when he won.

Who will be rookie of the year?

Ten rookies have been nominated, among them Mike Groff and Ted Prappas, both of Los Angeles. Other candidates are Jeff Andretti, Mario’s youngest son; Paul Tracy, runaway winner of the American Racing Series last year; Ribbs and Matsushita. Eddie Cheever, a Formula One defector, was the top rookie last year.

Qualifying will be held the weekends of May 11-12 and May 18-19.

Racing Notes

INDY CARS--The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach got a new lease on life this week. Toyota officials and the Grand Prix Assn. of Long Beach announced the signing of a new four-year sponsorship agreement, carrying the race through 1995.

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MOTORCYCLES--Ronnie Jones, the Oklahoma City rider who won the final race at Ascot, has entered the national half-mile race at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona May 11. It replaces the Ascot half-mile, which ran each spring for more than 30 years. The touring pros of the American Motorcyclist Assn. will stage a “Salute to Ascot” on the Fairplex program. . . . After a month’s layoff because of the ESPN “Saturday Night Thunder” midget races, the Coors-Kawasaki motocross series will resume Saturday night at Ventura Raceway.

Lake Perris Fairgrounds opens its speedway season tonight, replacing Ascot Park on the weekly schedule that includes Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa on Fridays, Speedway USA in Victorville on Saturdays and Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino on Wednesdays. . . . Wayne Rainey’s winning ride in the U.S. 500cc world championship race at Laguna Seca will be shown at 1 p.m. Saturday on Channel 2.

MIDGETS--The United States Auto Club Western States series moves to Imperial Raceway near El Centro Saturday and, as usual, the battle for the season points lead is between Sleepy Tripp and Robby Flock, with Tripp holding a six-point edge, 156-150. The pair have won 104 of the 255 feature races run since the series began in 1983. Tripp is the leader with 75 and Flock has 29. They also have dominated the series championships with Tripp winning in 1985-87-88 and 1990 and Flock the champion in 1986 and 1989. Another victory by Tripp will make him the winningest midget driver in the history of USAC. He currently is tied with the late Rich Vogler at 131.

SPRINT CARS--The California Racing Assn. opens its seventh annual Midwestern tour this week with a race Friday night at Tucson, Ariz. The non-winged car junket will be at 81 Speedway in Wichita, Kan., next Tuesday night.

OFF ROAD--More than 140 vehicles are expected for the second annual Spangler 150, a La Rana Desert Racing event scheduled for Saturday in Ridgecrest. Racing will be held in 20 classes. . . . Jerry Whechel of Sage Council Racing has taken over the halfway points lead in the Mickey Thompson Off Road Championship Gran Prix Series.

STOCK CARS--NASCAR sportsman cars top Saturday night’s program at Saugus Speedway. Hobby cars and jalopys are also on the program. . . . Santa Maria Speedway features dirt cars and late models on Saturday evening. . . . Late models and modified cars are scheduled for Saturday night at Bakersfield Speedway, and late model machines top Saturday night’s Mesa Marin Speedway program.

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Orange Show Stadium in San Bernardino also features stock cars on Saturday night, and veterans Ed Hale and John Borneman headline the main event at Cajon Speedway Saturday. Cajon attendance has reached 19,637 after four events, an increase of more than 2,600 over last season.

Geoff Bodine makes his 19th start in the 22nd $788,295 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway at Talladega, Ala., Sunday. He’s never won the race but will be seeking a fourth Talladega victory for Junior Johnson’s team.

DRAG RACING--Dave McClelland, for many years the voice of the National Hot Rod Assn., is recuperating from triple bypass heart surgery at his home in La Canada.

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