INDIANAPOLIS 500 / DAILY REPORT : Cold Rain Threatens Opening Round of Much-Anticipated Practice Runs

Prospects of a cold rain for today's opening round of practice for the 78th Indianapolis 500 dampened the spirits of crews as they unloaded cars and equipment Friday in Gasoline Alley.

With 109 cars entered--only eight shy of the 1984 record--teams were hoping for as much running time as possible before next Saturday's pole qualifying. The 33-car starting field for the May 29 race will be determined by four-lap (10-mile) time trials the next two weekends.

Cars do not run at Indy when it rains, or even when the track is wet.


Twelve rookies passed their orientation tests last week, one stage of which was running on the track at speeds of more than 200 m.p.h. Included were five Americans--Scott Sharp, Bryan Herta, Mark Smith, Dennis Vitolo and Brian Till--along with Jacques Villeneuve and Ross Bentley of Canada, Mauricio Gugelmin and Marco Greco of Brazil, Adrian Fernandez of Mexico, Fredrik Ekblom of Sweden and Hideshi Matsuda of Japan.

Herta took his test in A.J. Foyt's car, fueling speculation that the 1993 Indy Lights champion from Los Angeles might get the ride left vacant when Davy Jones and Foyt parted company last week.


Indy car champion Nigel Mansell is especially eager to get started. Last year at this time he was in a Florida hospital, recuperating from back surgery. Although he arrived late in the week, he passed his rookie test and qualified eighth on the first day of trials before finishing third in the 500.

"For me, Indianapolis last year was a bit of a blur," the English champion said. "I'd only just come off the operating table 10 days before. I'm just amazed, when I look back, that I got through the whole last week. So I'm looking forward to being there the whole time this year, and enjoying it as opposed to just putting up with it."

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