By Art Garner, Crain News Service
INDIANAPOLIS (May 21, 2014) — "Bump Day," the tradition of setting the final spots in the Indianapolis 500's field of 33 cars, is no more.
Once upon a time, “Bump Day” rivaled “Pole Day” and “Race Day” in terms of excitement and suspense when it came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Drivers jumped from car to car in a desperate attempt to find the necessary speed to qualify for the race as the clock ticked down on Sunday afternoon.
And you could always count on A. J. Foyt to roll out one of his backup cars late on the final day for one of his friends to attempt to qualify and to bump someone out of the race at the Brickyard.
But those days are long gone. In fact, they’ve done away with Bump Day entirely this year in the most dramatic overhaul of qualifying procedures in Speedway history. The field of 33 was set on Saturday, May 17, but then the drivers in positions 10-33 requalified on Sunday morning, and the nine fastest drivers on Saturday advanced to the Fast Nine Shootout for pole position — and for the television cameras — Sunday afternoon.
Hometown favorite Ed Carpenter secured the pole with a run of just over 231 mph.
To be honest, Bump Day lost its allure and drama in recent years. This year only 33 cars posted speeds on Saturday. Not a single bump attempt was necessary.
The reduction in practice time over the years and the switch to a single weekend of qualifying certainly had an impact. Teams don’t have the luxury of putting their primary cars into the race one weekend, then rolling out their backup cars the following week.
Since the introduction of the new Dallara race car, some have also blamed a chassis shortage. Teams didn’t want to take a chance damaging a chassis or tub that would be difficult to replace.
But this year, there are 64 cars entered in the race, including 30 “T” or backup cars. Thirty-six cars turned laps in practice.
The cars have also proved to be remarkably resilient. Ryan Hunter-Reay backed into the wall hard during qualifying for last weekend’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis with what appeared to be heavy damage. But his team had him back on the grid and fighting for the lead the very next day.
And after Sebastian Saavedra had his car apparently destroyed at the start of that race, he was back on the track to practice for the 500 in a little more than two days — in the same car. So blaming the lack of cars for a lack of bumping is a stretch.
Some blame a lack of engines, but it’s more likely a shortage of people, both to work on the engines and to pit crew the cars. Some teams are already importing crew members from the sports-car ranks. This reminds you of 1965 when Ford brought the Wood Brothers in to handle Brit Formula 1 champion Jimmy Clark’s pit duties.
The real answer to the question, however, is actually pretty simple. There’s a lack of money. As one manufacturer rep put it, “We’re not going to take a loss on an engine just so another car or two can attempt to qualify.”
At a minimum, an engine and tire bill for Indy is estimated at about $300,000. That’s more than the $225,000 or so last place will pay in this year’s 500, so a NASCAR-style start-and-park effort doesn’t make sense. Some teams might be willing to put a driver in car for the $300K minimum, but there just doesn’t seem to be that kind of money available, especially when there’s a chance you might not qualify.
So don’t expect any last minute bumping surprises this year. Unless, of course, A. J. suddenly gets nostalgic for the good old days and rolls out one of his “T” cars.
This report appeared on autoweek.com, the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.