SPEEDWAY, Ind. – By the numbers, when the weekend began it appeared Michel Jourdain Jr. would be in the 33-car starting lineup for the 97th Indianapolis 500.
After all, with 33 driver and car combination entered in the race, all he had to do was make a qualification attempt and he would be starting next Sunday’s Indy 500.
That was before Katherine Legge became the 34th driver when her deal was announced at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
By the time Bump Day was over, Legge essentially gave Jourdain the boot.
“I haven’t slept in three days, I’m not going to lie,” Legge said. “I need a drink right now. It is amazing what has happened the past few days. I feel bad for Michel – it would have been nice if it had been a fair fight and he had a chance to qualify. But I and thankful I’m in and have a lot of thank yous to give. It was very stressful.”
No, she didn’t actually bump him out of the race because she was the driver that spent most of Sunday on the “Bubble” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after she ran a four-lap qualification average of 223.176 miles per hour in a Dallara/Honda. When Jourdain was unable to get the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Dallara/Honda fast enough to even make a qualification attempt, Legge was safely in the race.
That left Rahal and Jourdain struggling to understand why their car got slower as qualifications neared an end.
“It shouldn’t have been a contest, frankly,” Rahal said. “It’s a mystery for sure. I feel bad for Michel. Something happened along the line in the last day or so that made the car very difficult to drive. Having been there before in 1993 I know how he feels. I’m sure it is disappointing. We are going to do a big investigation as to what is wrong with the car because we put Graham’s setup on what he liked earlier in the week. There is something wrong with the car somewhere or something has been done to it where it is not the way it is supposed to be.
“I feel bad but I’m not going to ask him to hang it out and potentially hurt himself. No race is worth that. It’s a shame but I can commiserate with him because I’ve been there and I know what it feels like.”
Rahal even put the nose and underwing from his son’s car on Jourdain’s, but the Graham Rahal pieces didn’t solve the problem. He thinks there may be a structural failure in the car – the same car that Mike Conway drove for RLL in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“I hate to guess what is going on but I’m sure we did everything we could do to get his car in the race,” Rahal said. “We heard the rumor that there would be a 34th entry in this race. We had to be prepared either way.”
In life, they say, “Two out of three ain’t bad” but don’t tell that to a team owner in the Indianapolis 500. Two of Rahal’s three cars made it into the starting lineup including Graham Rahal, who will start 26th after running a four-lap average of 225.007 mph in a Dallara/Honda. James Jakes made the field on Saturday’s Pole Day and will start 20th after running a four-lap average of 225.809 mph in a Dallara/Honda.
“Graham was 29th two years ago and finished third,” Rahal said. “My last two years here I started in the back row and finished third both years. If you have a good race car it doesn’t matter where you start.”
While Bobby Rahal and Jourdain lamented, “What might have been” Legge was looking forward to a chance to finally get some sleep.
“I haven’t slept in three days,” Legge said after climbing out of her race car when Jourdain aborted his qualification dreams with 16 minutes left on Bump Day. She had been sitting in her car in a black firesuit with the hot Indiana sun beating down on her for nearly an hour, ready to hit the track in case Jourdain was able to bump her out of the field. Instead of getting onto the race course, the car never left its pit area.
“We trimmed her out and were going to go do it having not done that before but we were ready. Obviously, it’s not nice to do it in that manner; I feel bad for Michel because he has had issues. It’s never good to go out like that. You want it to be a fair fight. The run we did earlier was a banker lap, really. It was maybe 20 laps in for me for this month. I’m relieved and looking forward to Carb Day now.”