Bobby Rahal might be the first driver in Indy 500 history to hope he gets bumped from the field.
Three positions for the May 29 race remain to be filled today when qualifying trials resume at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Once 33 cars are qualified, the slowest cars may be bumped by non-qualified cars that are faster today and Sunday.
Rahal and teammate Mike Groff, in Honda-powered Lolas, are the two slowest among the 30 already qualified and are the most vulnerable to bumping. Rahal wants his two team cars to be eliminated early so he and Groff can get into contingency-plan Penske-Ilmors and get back in the race with competitive qualifying speeds.
The rub is, if the slow Hondas are not bumped, Rahal and Groff will have to drive them in the 500.
Once it became apparent that the Hondas were not likely to be competitive, Carl Hogan, Rahal's partner, contacted Roger Penske to buy two '93 Ilmor-powered Penskes. Penske had entered them in the 500 in case his newer and more powerful Mercedes-Benz engines did not respond properly to testing--which they did.
The car Rahal hopes to drive was Emerson Fittipaldi's backup in last year's 500 and was raced by Paul Tracy at Mid-Ohio, where he led 20 laps. The Rahal-Hogan crew has refitted it for Rahal and installed a '94 Ilmor V-8 engine.
Groff's Penske was used only for testing last year.
"I never want to find myself in the situation I was in last year, when I got bumped and couldn't get enough speed out of my other car to get back in the field," Rahal said.
Last year, as the defending PPG Cup Indy car champion, he qualified with a chassis of his own making and was bumped. This year, back with an untried engine, he is in danger of the same fate, but this time he has the contingency plan.
Among the drivers expected to compete for the three remaining positions are John Paul Jr., Gary Bettenhausen, Geoff Brabham, Marco Greco and Buddy Lazier, all of whom have run 220 m.p.h. or faster the last two days.