Variety Is Spice of Fastest Field : Auto racing: Engine variations, controversial new pit rule are expected to produce a wide-open race today.


Hungry this morning?

Good, because the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a holiday weekend smorgasbord all ready.

When starter Duane Sweeney flags off the 76th Indianapolis 500 today, there will be:

--Ten former winners, four of whom have won at least twice.

--Seven rookies, three from other countries.

--Lyn St. James, the first woman to drive here in 13 years.

--Five drivers 50 or older.

--A variety of engines, including two new V-8 Chevy-B's, four new V-8 Fords, a dozen V-6 Buick stock blocks and 15 V-8 Chevy-A's, the powerplant that has won here every year since 1988.

--Penske, Galmer, Truesports and Lola chassis.

--The fastest starting field in history.

--Controversial new regulations for caution periods and pit row.

Something for everyone. And probably as wide-open a race as has been run here in years, thanks to the engine variations.

The new Fords and some of the Buicks have been flying all month. But the Fords are not race tested, and the Buicks have a reputation for speed at the expense of reliability. And Roger Penske's new Chevys have not been as fast as everyone expected they would be.

All of which should make for an interesting race day.

Rick Mears, the four-time and defending champion, is expecting one and hopes not to be at a serious disadvantage in his Penske, powered by a Chevy-B.

"I think the race will be a little more level playing field," he said. "We're going to fall in line, run a lap or so, see where everything's at and start working from there.

"One thing we've worked on is getting the car a little closer (to the faster cars) on race day. We're hoping to be a little more competitive in the early going.

"But (the Fords and Buicks) are going to be running strong, and if we can't run up front we'll try to at least stay in touch and work accordingly."

The Ford and Buick drivers figure on running strong.

"You'll see some 227- or 228- (m.p.h.) laps," Lola-Ford driver Mario Andretti said. "You won't see them at the start, but you will once everyone is settled in and you get a clear track."

Lola-Buick driver Gary Bettenhausen agreed.

"I think you'll see a lot of 225 laps," he said. "And (even) when the cars are running full of fuel, you'll see some running 215 and some 219 or 220."

Added Emerson Fittipaldi, Mears' teammate and also a former winner: "Racing speeds will be higher, for sure--223, 224."

Fittipaldi will be starting in the fourth row, which will put him in the middle of traffic at the start.

"I hope I can get a good draft," he said. "I don't want to lose contact with the leading group. I'm looking to be strong with 200 miles to go."

That hard-to-balance combination of speed and strength is exactly what every driver wants for this race, but strategy--and racing luck--play major roles here as well. And the new pit rules figure to drastically alter strategy, which might make racing luck all the more important.

In previous years, when the caution light went on, drivers were free to visit their pits at the earliest opportunity. Drivers and crews who used their yellow-light pit time well often were able to avoid costly stops under the green flag.

This year, however, the pits will be closed when the yellow light comes on and will stay closed until the field has bunched behind the pace car. The sanctioning United States Auto Club figures that will cut down racing during caution periods.

That means, in all probability, more pit stops on the green.

It also means, however, that when the pits open during caution periods, there will be a mad dash in by most of the field, leading--drivers fear--to congestion, confusion and possible collisions.

"The pit row is quite narrow," Fittipaldi pointed out. "You come in fast, using most of the pit row. You have to use it. And that situation can be very critical, can be dangerous. You have everybody coming in together and trying to get out together. I reckon it will be more dangerous now in this new situation than it was before."

That's how Danny Sullivan, another former winner, sees it.

"There's going to be a crowd in the pits when they open," he said. "You'll not only have them pitting at the same time, but you'll also have them exiting at the same time. That may be more dangerous."

Pit congestion is not the only drawback, drivers say. They point out that bringing the field together behind the pace car could use as many as two laps, during which time a car in trouble could fall out of the race.

"What if you were getting ready to pit for fuel just before the caution period?" Sullivan said. "If you've got a gallon left and have to get behind the pace car, you'll never make it around. You'll run out over on the back straight.

"I know they'll say we should have planned our stops better, but there's no way we can tell when the caution periods will be."

And so, in a race that produces controversy at the drop of a helmet, the seeds have been sown for another.

New engines, new drivers, new rules--a lot of things change here. But a lot of them don't, too.

Indianapolis 500 Lineup

The lineup for today's Indianapolis 500, listing driver, hometown or country, chassis-engine, and four-lap average speed in miles per hour:

ROW 1 No.Driver Home Car-Eng. 1.Roberto Guerrero San Juan Capistrano Lola-Buick 2.Eddie Cheever Aspen, Colo. Lola-Ford 3.Mario Andretti Nazareth, Pa. Lola-Ford ROW 2 4.Arie Luyendyk Netherlands Lola-Ford 5.Gary Bettenhausen Monrovia, Ind. Lola-Buick 6.Michael Andretti Nazareth, Pa. Lola-Ford ROW 3 7.Scott Brayton Coldwater, Mich. Lola-Buick 8.Danny Sullivan Aspen, Colo. Galmer-Chevy 9.Rick Mears Jupiter, Fla. Penske-Chevy ROW 4 10.Bobby Rahal Dublin, Ohio Lola-Chevy 11.Emerson Fittipaldi Brazil Penske-Chevy 12.Al Unser Jr. Albuquerque, N.M. Galmer-Chevy ROW 5 13.Stan Fox Janesville, Wis. Lola-Buick 14.John Andretti Indianapolis Lola-Chevy 15.*Eric Bachelart Belgium 1990 Lola-Buick ROW 6 16.*Philippe Gache France 1991 Lola-Chevy 17.Scott Pruett Dublin, Ohio Truesports-Chevy 18.John Paul Jr. West Palm Beach, Fla. 1990 Lola-Buick ROW 7 19.*Paul Tracy Canada 1991 Penske-Chevy 20.Jeff Andretti Nazareth, Pa. Lola-Chevy 21.Jim Crawford Scotland Lola-Buick ROW 8 22.Al Unser Albuquerque, N.M. Lola-Buick 23.A.J. Foyt Houston Lola-Chevy 24.Buddy Lazier Vail, Colo. 1990 Lola-Buick ROW 9 25.Raul Boesel Brazil Lola-Chevy 26.*Brian Bonner Boston 1990 Lola-Cosworth 27.*Lyn St. James Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Lola-Chevy A ROW 10 28.*Jim Vasser Discovery Bay, Calif. 1991 Lola-Chevy 29.Dominic Dobson Fairfax, Calif. 1991 Lola-Chevy A 30.Tom Sneva Paradise Valley, Ariz. 1991 Lola-Buick ROW 11 31.Gordon Johncock Hastings, Mich. 1991 Lola-Buick 32.*Ted Prappas Los Angeles 1991 Lola-Chevy A 33.Scott Goodyear Canada Lola-Chevy A

ROW 1 No.Driver Speed 1.Roberto Guerrero 232.482 2.Eddie Cheever 229.639 3.Mario Andretti 229.503 ROW 2 4.Arie Luyendyk 229.127 5.Gary Bettenhausen 228.932 6.Michael Andretti 228.169 ROW 3 7.Scott Brayton 226.142 8.Danny Sullivan 224.838 9.Rick Mears 224.594 ROW 4 10.Bobby Rahal 224.158 11.Emerson Fittipaldi 223.607 12.Al Unser Jr. 222.989 ROW 5 13.Stan Fox 222.867 14.John Andretti 222.644 15.*Eric Bachelart 221.644 ROW 6 16.*Philippe Gache 221.496 17.Scott Pruett 220.464 18.John Paul Jr. 220.224 ROW 7 19.*Paul Tracy 219.306 20.Jeff Andretti 219.054 21.Jim Crawford 228.859 ROW 8 22.Al Unser 223.744 23.A.J. Foyt 222.798 24.Buddy Lazier 222.688 ROW 9 25.Raul Boesel 222.434 26.*Brian Bonner 220.845 27.*Lyn St. James 220.150 ROW 10 28.*Jim Vasser 222.313 29.Dominic Dobson 220.359 30.Tom Sneva 219.737 ROW 11 31.Gordon Johncock 219.288 32.*Ted Prappas 219.173 33.Scott Goodyear 221.801


Average speed of field--223.479 (qualifying record, old mark, 218.590, 1991)

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World