Ground(ed) Effects

Indycar and general autosport opinion

One of the closest and most exciting finishes in Indy history came in 2006 when Sam Hornish, Jr. passed Marco coming down the front straight within 200 yards of the line on the final lap. Never in the history of the race had the lead changed so closely to the line. My seats were located on the front straight that day just beyond the start/finish line and the noise from the crowd was deafening as it had been only a few times before.

It was an amazing end to a race month that was filled with ugly weather and one of the ugliest cars to ever qualify at Indy.

The two Rookie Orientation days of the month went smoothly, but 7 out of the following 11 available days, including qualifying, were either shortened or cancelled completely by rain. Qualifying was compressed from the ’11/11/11/bumps’ four-day format to two days. Unfortunately for some teams, there was precious little time to get marginal cars up to speed. PDM Racing was just such a team. 

A smaller-budget team already battling money, time, and the elements just to have an opportunity to make the show. Their rookie driver Thiago Medeiros, the 2004 Infiniti Pro Series Champion, worked well through his Rookie Orientation Procedure in this cobbled together mess of a G-Force chassis on May 8th: 

(c) 2006, Jim Haines, Motorsport.com

The PDM effort was dealt a serious blow when Medeiros crashed and severely damaged (although judging by aesthetics, that may be a relative term) their lone chassis late in the limited practice of Thursday, May 18.

Just two days remained if PDM was going to be able to even attempt to make the race. One final day of practice on Friday and Saturday’s Pole Day qualifying later, 32 cars were proven to make the grid, leaving the team of Marty Roth Racing and PDM the only two fighting for that final spot.

The team spent those two days scrambling to find money and parts and time to assemble their one chassis to have their lone, Bump Day shot at making the race. And what an ugly chassis it was. With some unpainted or scavenged, mis-matched parts, a few sponsor stickers, and lots of elbow grease, the PDM team worked for two straight days and nights to get the already abysmal appearing “Frankenchassis” of a Panoz to the limited practice available prior to the final day of qualifying on Sunday, May, 21st.

Due to lack of qualifying attempts, most of Bump Day remained open for practice as teams prepped their Race Day settings. Drama arrived late in the afternoon in the form of A. J. Foyt Racing who surprisingly pulled a third, prepared chassis from their stable and employed the experienced Ryan Briscoe to possibly qualify the number 48.


Adding pressure to what had already been a highly taxing 48 hours for PDM racing, they returned from the garages with less than 60 minutes remaining, following some final changes, a new sponsor sticker, aero parts from what appeared to be no less than 6 different origins, and presented their car for qualifying attempt number one at 5:03pm

(c) 2006, Dan Vielhaber, Indymotorspeedway.com
(c) 2006, Gavin Lawrence


It is fairly certain that to all who followed this story, breathing was done only as minimally as possible.  All of PDM Racing’s hopes and aspirations for the 2006 Indy 500 were riding on the four laps that Medeiros was about to take.

Thiago managed to qualify the car on his first attempt, nearly bouncing the 32nd car to 33rd, but slowing enough on the final lap to be set “on the bubble” for the remainder of the day. As the clock ticked and Marty Roth presented a car for qualifying, his hopes were dashed in warm-ups when losing control of the car and colliding with the Turn One wall.

Perhaps mercifully, Foyt withdrew their third car from the qualifying line, and as the gun sounded at 6:00pm, ending qualifying for 2006, underdog PDM Racing and Thiago Medeiros must have felt nearly as jubilant making the field for the 2006 Indy 500 as winning it.

PDM’s raceday version of the car was a sight for sore eyes and a marked improvement over what was until then, perhaps the ugliest car to ever contend during the month of May.

(c) 2006, Earl Ma, Motorsport.com

  

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