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Rahal, Legge survive Bump Day at Indianapolis 500

REUTERS
Graham Rahal (left) removes his earplugs near his father, Bobby Rahal, after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 19, 2013.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013, 7:18 p.m.
 

INDIANAPOLIS — Graham Rahal didn't expect to be in the unenviable position of having to slug it out with nine other drivers Sunday to put himself on the starting grid for the 97th Indianapolis 500.

Yet, there he was gutting it out on a sweltering Bump Day at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rahal piloting the No. 15 Dallara-Honda for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, was expected to keep pace with the IndyCar Series elite on the first day of time trials Saturday. Yet, he wasn't among the 24 drivers locked into the 33-car field.

“I have been in this spot before, so I knew this would be the way it would be,” Rahal said. “I thought yesterday we would be quicker. We fought some small uphill battles and couldn't get through it.”

Rahal's car packed far more punch on a day when the field was set for auto racing's premier event at the Brickyard. The former Chip Ganassi Racing driver strung together four consistently quick laps to qualify 26th with an average speed of 225.007 mph.

Still, Rahal will have to cover plenty of distance on the 2 12-mile oval to reel in the front-row qualifiers — pole-sitter Ed Carpenter, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti.

“I just knew the car had plenty of speed in it to get four laps and move on,” said Rahal, who finished second in last month's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. “It was far more on edge today than it was yesterday.”

Rahal, who posted the fastest practice speed (226.564 mph), was aided some by favorable track conditions. Also, the wind wasn't nearly as strong and shifty as it was during Saturday's qualifying session.

“When you start to get the temperatures like this, it starts to slide around significantly more,” Rahal said. “I could feel the wind gusts, so it was pretty on edge a couple of times. You just get your four laps done holding your breath.”

Rahal also spent part of the afternoon helping to fine-tune the No. 17 Honda of teammate Michel Jourdain, who struggled to get the car up to speed. Rahal tried working out the kinks to prepare Jourdain for his last-ditch effort to bump Katherine Legge from the 33-car field.

Jourdain couldn't get near Legge's qualifying speed of 223.176 mph. He climbed out of his car with 10 minutes remaining in qualifying to put Legge in the 200-lap race for the second year in a row.

“There was something always wrong with the car,” Jourdain said. “We couldn't make any progress.”

Legge, who finished ninth in her last start in September at Auto Club Speedway in Los Angeles, has spent the entire IndyCar season looking for a job. With only a handful of cars available, the British driver found a ride at the Brickyard on Saturday.

Legge put the No. 81 Dallara-Chevrolet of Schmidt Peterson Racing on the racetrack for the first time during Sunday morning's practice session.

“I'm not going to lie; I was freaking out this morning,” said Legge, who turned less than 20 practice laps before her qualifying run. “We just have to work through things in a very organized way.

“We have to trim her out a bit. We changed the gear stack because we're on the (rev) limiter. I just have to kind of focus on what I have to do and make sure that I'm flawless. It's never easy around this place.”

Notes: In addition to Rahal and Legge, others making the Indianapolis 500 field were Josef Newgarden, Sebastian Saavedra, Tristian Vautier, Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, rookie Conor Daly and 1996 champion Buddy Lazier. … Will Power, who held the provisional pole before getting bumped by Carpenter in Saturday's Fast Nine shootout, brushed the wall in Turn 4 but the Dallara-Chevrolet sustained little damage.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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