Indy rookie is 1st woman to make field in 13 years Three of 33 spots open going into final runs

May 17, 1992|By Shav Glick | Shav Glick,Los Angeles Times

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis 500 has its first female driver in 13 years, but it still doesn't have a 33-car field for next Sunday's 76th annual race.

Lyn St. James, running faster each time she took her 1991 Lola-Chevrolet around the 2 1/2 -mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway rectangular oval, qualified at 220.150 mph Saturday to earn the 30th starting position.

Although she and car owner Dick Simon held out until the last minute in hopes she could get her original car, a Lola-Cosworth, up to speed, St. James switched to a Chevrolet engine for her qualifying attempt. A spokeswoman for the Ford Motor Co. who recently signed a new 10-year personal services contract, St. James would not make the car switch until she received the blessings of the Ford hierarchy.

"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for all the support I've had over the years from Ford,"she said. "But that Chevy ran absolutely perfect."

Her lap sequence was 218.585, 220.011, 220.902 and 221.119.

St. James, who will be making her first start in an open-wheel, open-cockpit race after a lengthy and successful career in sedans and sports cars, credited car owner Dick Simon with coaching her.

"It's been golden," she said of her association with Simon, which started in 1988 when she first tested an Indy car with him in Memphis, Tenn. "He always seems to know what's going on in my mind. Because he is a former driver, he senses what I need to know."

In qualifying, the 45-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Fla., driver became the oldest rookie to make the field in 500 history.

Simon, who also was Janet Guthrie's mentor when she became the first woman at Indy in 1977, said both he and St. James owed thanks to Emmanuel Lupe, who allowed them to race French driver Philippe Gache's backup car.

"When we approached Lupe about using his spare car, he said, 'OK, Dick, you need car, you take car.' " Simon said. "Then we had to get blessings from our sponsors, J. C. Penney and Agency car rental, and Lyn had to get permission from Ford before we could put her in the Chevy. It was quite an ordeal, but it worked out."

Only two other drivers, rookie Brian Bonner of Boston and Los Angeles native Mike Groff, joined the field with St. James. Bonner ran 220.845 mph in a car purchased from Simon by Dale Coyne, giving Coyne two rookies in the race. Eric Bachelart of Belgium qualified last Saturday at 221.549.

Groff, who set a rookie speed record last year, qualified late in the day in Scott Goodyear's backup car. He ran 221.801 mph.

Several drivers, including former Indy 500 winners Tom Sneva and Gordon Johncock, made attempts but did not accept their speeds.

One more qualifying opportunity remains today, with three berths open. As soon as they are filled, remaining candidates can attempt to bump the slowest qualifier from the field. Going into today's runs, that is Jim Vasser at 218.268.

Among drivers on the premises looking for a ride, or looking for more speed, are Johnny Rutherford, Willy T. Ribbs, Rocky Moran, Johnny Parsons and Jeff Wood.

Pancho Carter, a veteran of 17 Indy races, crashed while warming up for a second attempt to qualify. The left front suspension broke, sending Carter's Lola-Buick into the wall in Turn 2. He was taken to Methodist Hospital, where X-rays disclosed a broken right arm.

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