INDIANAPOLIS - As the minutes ticked away yesterday, the final day of qualifications for next week's Indianapolis 500, Roberto Moreno and his team took stock of their situation.
With less than an hour to go until the 33-car field was set for the May 27 race, the 48-year-old Brazilian, hoping to drive in his third 500 in 21 years, was "on the bubble," the slowest qualifier in the lineup at 216.229 mph.
Moreno said he was sure that wasn't going to be fast enough. As he got more comfortable in his car, Moreno's practice speeds climbed and he knew it was time to get aggressive instead of waiting for a faster car to bump him.
"I saw that I achieved 220 [mph] and was solid in the car and said, 'OK, guys, that's enough. Let's go for it.' "
Moreno, who got his ride in the No. 77 Chastain Motorsports car on Friday, the day after Stephan Gregoire crashed, fracturing a vertebra, was up to the challenge. His first lap was over 219.8 and the next three were all over 220, giving him an average of 220.299 - more than 4 mph faster than the speed he posted on Saturday.
"Yesterday, we were not ready for it," Moreno said. "We played around too much with the car. I told my engineer to just make me comfortable so I could go flat around this track."
Moreno, who finished 19th in 1986 and 20th in 1999, was so happy with his run yesterday, he took his hands off the steering wheel before he completed the final lap, raising his arms in triumph and shaking his fist.
Moreno joined Richie Hearn and rookie Phil Giebler as qualifiers, with Jimmy Kite, who began the day with the slowest speed (214.528) among the 32 drivers already in the lineup, the only driver bumped out. *