1996 Indianapolis 500
The 80th Indianapolis 500 was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana on Sunday, May 26, 1996. This was the first Indy 500 contested by the Indy Racing League, under the overall sanctioning umbrella of USAC. It was the third and final race of the 1996 IRL season. Buddy Lazier won the race, his first career victory in top-level Indy car competition. Lazier's victory came just over two months after he suffered a broken back in a crash at Phoenix.
|Indianapolis Motor Speedway|
|Season||1996 IRL season|
|Date||May 26, 1996|
|Winning team||Hemelgarn Racing|
|Average speed||147.956 mph|
|Pole position||Tony Stewart|
|Pole speed||233.718 mph|
|Fastest qualifier||Arie Luyendyk (236.986 mph)|
|Rookie of the Year||Tony Stewart|
|Most laps led||Roberto Guerrero (47)|
|National anthem||Florence Henderson|
|"Back Home Again in Indiana"||Jim Nabors|
|Starting command||Mary F. Hulman|
|Pace car||Dodge Viper GTS|
|Pace car driver||Bob Lutz|
|Honorary starter||Robert James Eaton|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Paul Page, Danny Sullivan, and Bobby Unser|
|Nielsen ratings||7.1 / 23|
The race was surrounded by months of controversy. Most of the top teams and drivers in Indy car racing chose to boycott the race, protesting a perceived lockout of CART teams by the IRL. Rival teams effectively staged a "walkout" and instead scheduled a competing race the same day, the U.S. 500 at Michigan. Participants in the 1996 Indy 500 included several familiar Indy car teams and owners such as A.J. Foyt, Dick Simon, Hemelgarn, and Menard. But top teams from CART including Penske, Ganassi, Newman/Haas, Rahal, and many others, were all at Michigan. There were also many new teams, some of which moved up from Indy Lights, AIS, or sports cars. Many of the drivers were inexperienced rookies from an obscure range of backgrounds, giving the impression of a field of replacement drivers. There was only one former Indy 500 winner in the field (Arie Luyendyk), but three former pole position winners entered. In addition, there were no former National Champions in the field for the first time since 1928.
Media attention of the open wheel "split" was highly critical going into the race, as a number of the IRL participants were ridiculed and the prestige of the Indianapolis 500 itself was brought into question. The "split" embittered a significant portion of the fanbase, and journalist Robin Miller of The Indianapolis Star was among the most outspoken of critics. However, the race itself was found to be competitive and entertaining, while the rival U.S. 500 suffered a multi-car pile-up prior to the green flag.
During practice, the month was marred by the death of pole position winner Scott Brayton, who was killed in a crash testing a back-up car. The month was also plagued by constant rain. In Indianapolis, May 1996 was the fifth-wettest month of May on record, and the 4th wettest month of May in Indy 500 history.
The 1996 race marked Firestone's first Indy 500 victory since 1971. In what would be the final year contested under the turbocharged engine formula (until their reintroduction in 2012), on a newly repaved track, all-time track record speeds were set during practice and time trials. Arie Luyendyk set the official one-lap track record (237.498 mph) and the four-lap track record (236.986 mph), while Eddie Cheever ran the fastest race lap (236.103 mph) in Indy 500 history - records that all still stand as of 2020. Luyendyk also ran the fastest practice lap in Indy history (239.260 mph) just a fraction of a second shy of breaking the 240 mph barrier.
- See also 1996 Indy Racing League season
The seeds of the IRL/CART "split" were planted in the early 1990s, when newly named Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George began exploring options of changes in the sport of Indy cars. Sharply rising costs, the lack of many ovals on the schedule, and the dwindling number of American participants were among his stated concerns. As early as May 1991, George announced intentions to change the engine formula to 3.5L normally aspirated powerplants (essentially the same engines used in Formula One at the time), a plan that never got past the planning stages. George joined the CART board of directors from 1992-1994 as a non-voting member. He resigned after the brief tenure, disagreeing with the direction of the series.
In the summer of 1994, George announced he was going to start a new series, the Indy Racing League, with the Indianapolis 500 as its centerpiece. CART had been sanctioning the sport of Indy car racing since 1979, with the exception of the Indianapolis 500 itself, which was sanctioned singly by USAC. The first USAC/CART "split" in 1979 had already caused major controversy in the sport. USAC continued to sanction paved championship races outside of Indianapolis as late as 1981, but by 1983 dropped all races outside of Indy. An arrangement around that time was put in place to recognize the Indy 500 on the CART schedule, and the points would be awarded towards the CART championship. Stability returned, and the sport settled into a relative harmony through 1995.
George blueprinted the new Indy Racing League as a lower-cost alternative to CART, with an emphasis on attracting American drivers, an all-oval schedule, and new cars with normally-aspirated, "production-based" engines. As a result, the Indy 500 would no longer be recognized on the CART calendar, and the machines currently used in the CART series would no longer be allowed at the Speedway starting in 1997.
Almost immediately, a turbulent political controversy erupted, with participants, media, fans, manufacturers, and sponsors all apprehensive of the sport's direction and pending shakeup. The prevailing opinion around the CART paddock was largely negative regarding the formation of the IRL. The 1995 season and 1995 Indy 500 were held as normal, but under a growing cloud of uncertainty about the future of the sport. During the summer of 1995, and into the offseason, the two factions of CART and the IRL were unable to reconcile on much of anything, and the "split" began to take shape. The biggest salvo was made on July 3, 1995, when IRL officials announced that the top 25 drivers in IRL points would be guaranteed starting positions in the 1996 Indy 500.
Boycott by CART teamsEdit
On November 18, 1995 CART teams, convinced they were being deliberately locked out from the 1996 Indy 500, and the victims of a "power grab" by Tony George, announced their intentions to boycott the event. They jointly announced plans for a new race, the Inaugural U.S. 500, to be held at Michigan International Speedway the same day.
The official reaction from IMS/IRL was one of disappointment and dismay, suggesting that CART was preparing to do considerable damage to Indy car racing. CART participants were convinced of the opposite. The only CART teams that entered were Galles and Walker, but neither fielded their regular full-time CART drivers. Galles fielded an Ilmor Mercedes-Benz 265-D (the only Mercedes entered) in a one-off entry for its test driver Davy Jones. Walker entered a car in the race for Mike Groff, who had run with the team at the Nazareth a week before practice began. Out of the 33 starters from the previous edition, only 11 drivers re-entered the event, with Eliseo Salazar (4th) and Arie Luyendyk (7th) being the only top 10 finishers from 1995.
Defending Indy 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve switched to Formula One and signed with the Williams team during the offseason, and irrespective of the "split," would not return to Indy for 1996. It marked the second year in a row the defending champion would not race in the 500. A year earlier, 1994 winner Al Unser Jr. failed to qualify. With the recent retirements of several Indy legends, as well as active drivers Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi (whose career would end in July due to a crash at the Marlboro 500) and Unser Jr. who were at the CART race at Michigan, the only former Indy winner entered as a driver would be Arie Luyendyk. Additionally, the U.S. 500 field represented 109 Indy 500 starts and 5 wins, compared to just 75 previous 500 starts for the 1996 Indy 500 lineup; the lowest since 1932. The U.S. 500 competitors also accounted for 127 CART and USAC-sanctioned IndyCar wins and 7 National Championships, while the Indy 500 drivers had only 14 wins and no National Championships among the 33 starters.
Rules for 1996Edit
- On August 11, 1994, USAC announced a preliminary engine rules package for 1996. In an effort to eliminate the multiple platforms used in the 1980s-1990s, all engines were going to be turbocharged 2.2L, overhead cam V-8, with 45 inHG. This was a reduction in displacement from 2.65L used at the time. The stock-block V-6 engines (e.g. Buick V-6 & Menard V-6), and the 209 cubic inch purpose-built pushrod engines (e.g., the Mercedes-Benz 500I & Greenfield) were eliminated. However, this rules package was only preliminary, and was later scrapped.
- Later, a revised rules package for the 1996 IRL season was announced. USAC implemented a rules freeze, and announced a rules package largely identical to the one used for the 1995 race, with only a few minor technical revisions. The move made it such that the race would be contested with 1992-1995 model year, CART-based chassis (namely Lola and Reynard). The 1996 model-year chassis being used in CART were not approved, further splintering the rift between the two camps. Apropos to the situation, many IRL teams actually purchased used 1994 and 1995 model-year chassis from rival CART teams. The V-8 overhead cam engines were restored to 2.65L, and the V-6 stock block engines were reinstated. This rules package was going to be used only for 1996, as a new normally-aspirated production-based engine package was planned for 1997.
- As had been allowed for several years, the V-6 "stock block" production-based engines (Buick and Menard) would be allowed 55 inHG, and the quad cam 2.65L V-8 engines (Ford Cosworth-XB and Ilmor "D") would stay at 45 inches. While they were not even used in 1995, the 209 cubic inch, purpose-built pushrod engines (e.g., the Mercedes-Benz 500I & Greenfield) were formally banned for 1996. Though eligible to compete, no entries utilized the Honda HRH-V8 engine (first introduced in 1995). The new Toyota V-8 engine (used by some CART entries in 1996) was not approved. Likewise, the newly-introduced Ford Cosworth XD was not permitted, only the XB version was allowed.
- The two-year-old Indy car "tire war" was embraced by the IRL. Both Goodyear and Firestone provided tires.
- The minimum age rule for drivers in 1996 was changed from 21 to 18, a ruling that allowed Michel Jourdain Jr., aged 19, to compete in the race.
25/8 Rule and locked-in entriesEdit
For the 1996 Indy 500, the "25/8 Rule" was adopted, where 25 starting grid positions were set aside for the top 25 cars in 1996 season IRL points standings, and the remaining 8 spots in the grid were open for the remaining entries. The arrangement was a controversial rule, and was a key issue that led the CART teams to boycott the race. The 25/8 was the form of provisional rule chosen by the IRL similar to provisional rules that was common place at the time in series which had more entries than starting position. Most series at the time had provisions in place in case a star or high up in the points system has issued in qualifying and did not run fast enough to qualify. IE: Daytona 500 qualifying which at the time locked in front row and then top 15 cars from each qualifying race. Then rest of field filled by provisional.
The format (similar in practice to NASCAR's Top 35 rule introduced years later) provided that the top 25 entries (not drivers) in owner points were guaranteed a "locked-in" starting position, and could not be bumped, provided they completed a four-lap qualifying run over a minimum prescribed speed. Officials set 220 mph as the minimum. The grid would still be arranged by speed rank. The pole position would still be the fastest car on the first day of qualifying (or first trip through the qualifying order), regardless of "locked-in" status. The remaining eight positions would be filled by non-top 25 "at-large" entries, and bumping could only occur amongst those participants.
The first entry list was published on April 15. The 27 entries that had run the first two rounds of the 1996 year were entered, including the #41 A.J. Foyt Enterprises entry, vacated after Mike Groff's exit, and the #45 Zunne Group Racing entry, driven by Beck Motorsports driver Robbie Buhl at Phoenix, while Eliseo Salazar came back to his regular #7 drive at Team Scandia. Out of those 27 cars, only the #22 (Team Scandia) and the #96 (ABF Motorsports) were at-large entries. In the following weeks, Foyt signed Marco Greco to drive the #41 car, and Scandia entered Racin Gardner in the #90 car replacing Lyn St. James, who had faced budgetary issues.
Apart from Groff and Davy Jones' entries, eight further at-large driver/car combinations were registered: Fermín Vélez and a later signing, Indy 500 sophomore Alessandro Zampedri, would drive additional entries for Team Scandia. Team Menard and Hemelgarn Racing fielded third cars for Mark Dismore, returning to the Speedway five years after his horrific crash in 1991, and Brad Murphey, and Beck Motorsports prepared a second car for Hideshi Matsuda. Randy Tolsma was also signed by McCormack Motorsports, eventually falling under the Zunne Group Racing branding, while Scott Harrington and Dan Drinan entered their own cars, the latter having bought it from Blueprint Racing after failing to qualify at Phoenix. EuroInternational, under their legal Osella USA name, and an outfit named Burns Motorsports also filled entries for Russ Wicks and Jeff Wood, but neither team appeared during the month.
Three of the "locked-in" entries made no attempt to qualify. The #17 entry was eventually withdrawn, as Leigh Miller Racing had sold its assets to Beck Motorsports after Stan Wattles had been ruled out of the race on medical grounds. As for Tempero–Giuffre Racing, the #15, initially assigned to David Kudrave until being replaced by Justin Bell at the start of practice, and the #25 entry, assigned for Joe Gosek a few days earlier, were both vacated during the practice weeks. After Brayton's forfeit of the #2 car, only 21 of the 25 eligible "locked-in" entries were ready to qualify, leaving twelve at-large starting positions up for grabs. On the other hand, 27 drivers took the start at the U.S. 500 at Michigan.
Official Pace CarEdit
The Official Pace Car for the 1996 Indy 500 was the 1996 Dodge Viper GTS, driven by Robert A. Lutz, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler provided four GTS coupes for track use during the month of May:
- 2 two race-prepared cars (with a roof cut-out, racing seatbelts, and strobe lights) to be the pace car and backup;
- 1 car for IMS officials; and
- 1 car to be given to the race winner.
The Dodge Ram was the Official Truck during the month of May, and the Dodge Avenger was the Official Car. This was the second time a Viper paced the Indy 500, as a prototype version of the RT/10 roadster was named the pace car for the 1991 race, driven by Carroll Shelby.
Practice (week 1)Edit
Saturday May 4 - Opening DayEdit
Rookie orientation was scheduled for Opening Day. However, rain washed out the entire first day of practice.
Sunday May 5 - Rookie OrientationEdit
Opening day was reserved for rookie orientation, largely due to the overwhelming number of Indy 500 rookies entered. A cool morning saw only half an hour of practice amongst nine cars. Rain closed the track for the day at 9:35 a.m. Rookie Tony Stewart led the abbreviated session with a lap of 193.957 mph.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||20||Tony Stewart||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||193.957|
|2||23||Mark Dismore||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||193.569|
|3||33||Michele Alboreto||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||188.648|
Monday May 6 - Rookie OrientationEdit
Rain hampered practice for the third day in a row, however, activity was heavy throughout the day, with many drivers looking to finish their rookie tests. At 9:19 a.m., Tony Stewart ran the fastest lap ever at the Speedway by a rookie, at 231.774 mph. Later in the day, he upped the fastest lap of the month to 237.336 mph, which broke the existing unofficial track record.
Eleven drivers completed all four phases of their rookie tests: Stewart, Mark Dismore, Buzz Calkins, Michel Jourdain Jr., Michele Alboreto, Richie Hearn, Racin Gardner, Randy Tolsma, Dan Drinan, Brad Murphey, and Jim Guthrie. Despite being considered a rookie, Davey Hamilton, who had failed to qualify for the Indy 500 in three previous occasions (1991, 1993 and 1995), was given an exemption, and did not have to complete a rookie test.
Off the track, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against CART to protect the "IndyCar" trademark. IMS officials deemed that CART, who was organizing the rival U.S. 500, was failing to comply with the license agreement under which they received permission to use the "IndyCar" trademark.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||20||Tony Stewart||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||237.336|
|2||30||Mark Dismore||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||228.566|
|3||22||Michel Jourdain Jr.||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||228.154|
Tuesday May 7Edit
Rain fell once again at the Speedway, and the start of the practice was delayed until 2:30 p.m. Veteran drivers took to the track for the first time, with Menard teammates Scott Brayton and Eddie Cheever quickly setting the pace at over 235 mph and 233 mph, respectively.
Johnny Unser and Paul Durant both competed their rookie tests, bringing the total to 13 rookies. That morning, Zunne Group Racing confirmed that Lyn St. James, who had run the first two IRL races with Team Scandia, would drive its #45 entry, as a teammate to Randy Tolsma.
Late in the day, Arie Luyendyk moved up to the top five, with a lap of 232.162 mph. Team Menard, however, swept the top three positions on the speed chart, when Tony Stewart topped at 236.121 mph.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||20||Tony Stewart||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||236.121|
|2||3||Eddie Cheever||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||235.997|
|3||2||Scott Brayton||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||235.730|
Wednesday May 8Edit
Rain washed out practice for the day, the second day of the month completely lost to weather.
Thursday May 9Edit
A windy but warm day saw heavy action. Arie Luyendyk ran the fastest practice lap in Speedway history, at 237.774 mph. The three Menard entries (Stewart, Cheever, and Brayton) were all over 234 mph. Several other drivers cracked the 230 mph barrier, including Buddy Lazier, Davy Jones, and Scott Sharp.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||35||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd/Treadway Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||237.774|
|2||20||Tony Stewart||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||237.336|
|3||2||Scott Brayton||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||235.750|
Friday May 10Edit
"Fast Friday," the final day of practice before time trials, saw the fastest laps turned in Indy history. At 1:04 p.m., 35 minutes after completing the fastest lap of the month (238.045 mph), Arie Luyendyk ran the fastest practice lap in Speedway history, with an average speed of 239.260 mph. At 37.616 seconds, Luyendyk's lap was 0.106 seconds shy of the elusive 240 mph barrier, and as of 2019, stands as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one-lap unofficial track record.
Shortly after the track opened, Scott Brayton had run his fastest lap of the month, 235.688 mph. He would finish fourth behind Tony Stewart, who reached an average of 236 mph, and Scott Sharp. At 3:25 p.m., rain closed the track for the day. That day, Robbie Buhl became the 14th driver to complete his rookie test.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||35||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd/Treadway Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||239.260|
|2||20||Tony Stewart||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||236.004|
|3||11||Scott Sharp||A. J. Foyt Enterprises||Lola||Ford Cosworth||235.701|
Time trials (weekend 1)Edit
Pole Day - Saturday May 11Edit
Pole day dawned cold and rainy. The track opened for practice at 11:55 a.m., with 24 cars taking to the track. Johnny Parsons crashed in turn 3, while Arie Luyendyk, who barely avoided Parsons's crash, stalled with engine trouble 25 minutes later. Marco Greco and Scott Sharp also lost an engine during this session. Tony Stewart ran the fastest practice lap of the morning, at 235.719 mph.
Pole day time trials began at 2 p.m. Lyn St. James was the first car to qualify, completing her four-lap run at 224.594 mph. Buddy Lazier then grabbed the provisional pole at 231.468 mph. Twenty minutes later, Davy Jones broke the 1 and 4 lap track records, completing a run at 232.882 mph. The speed broke Roberto Guerrero's 1992 track record.
Tony Stewart bumped Jones off the pole with another new track record, at 233.100 mph, becoming the first rookie to hold both the 1 and 4 lap track records since Teo Fabi in 1983. His Menard teammates Eddie Cheever (231.781 mph) and Scott Brayton (231.535 mph) also put in respectable runs, but neither were fast enough for the pole. Eliseo Salazar just missed making the front row at 232.684 mph.
By 5:00 p.m., the field was filled to twenty cars, fifteen of which were "locked-in" entries. Due to expected difficulties replacing the blown engine in his primary car, Arie Luyendyk had to make do with a back-up car and a brand-new engine, which had heating issues after a few practice laps. With 33 minutes left in the day, Luyendyk finally started his qualifying attempt, and, despite averaging 232.407 mph over his first two laps, something he later blamed on not having used the right gear, he got to set new all-time track records, with a best lap of 234.742 mph, and a four-lap average of 233.390 mph. With no other contenders in line, it appeared Luyendyk had secured his second Indy 500 pole. Tony Stewart and Davy Jones tentatively rounded out the front row.
Suddenly, Team Menard began scrambling, and Scott Brayton was back on pit road carrying his helmet. The team had withdrawn their already-qualified #2 car, and Brayton was preparing to re-qualify in a back-up car, on which Brayton had only turned 13 laps that morning with competitive speeds. That car was the one Luyendyk had used to qualify in second place at Indianapolis the previous year. With this gamble, Menard had forfeited one of their "locked-in" spots, but Brayton would be eligible to run for the pole again. He took to the track at 5:42 p.m., and averaged 233.718 mph over a consistent 4-lap run that was fast enough to take the pole position, setting another four-lap track record. Luyendyk's one-lap record, however, still stood. At the 6 o'clock gun, Scott Brayton officially accepted his second straight Indy 500 pole position award. Luyendyk and Stewart now rounded out the front row.
At 7:45 p.m., USAC chief steward Keith Ward announced that Arie Luyendyk's car had failed post-qualifying inspection. The car was 7 pounds underweight, and his qualifying attempt was disallowed. The ruling elevated Tony Stewart to second place, and nullified Luyendyk's standing one-lap track record. Scott Brayton's fast lap of 233.851 mph now stood as the official one-lap record, alongside his 4-lap record. Despite being disqualified late on Saturday, Luyendyk would be permitted to re-qualify the same machine on a later day. However, one of the three allotted attempts were charged to the chassis.
Second Day - Sunday May 12Edit
- Lap 1: 38.097 seconds, 236.239 mph (new 1-lap track record)
- Lap 2: 37.983 seconds, 236.948 mph (new 1-lap track record)
- Lap 3: 37.933 seconds, 237.260 mph (new 1-lap track record)
- Lap 4: 37.895 seconds, 237.498 mph (all-time 1-lap track record)
- Total- 2:31.908, 236.986 mph (all-time 4-lap track record)
Luyendyk's run made him the fastest qualifier in the field, however, as a second-day qualifier, he was forced to line up 21st (behind all of the first-day qualifiers). Luyendyk's one and four lap track records still stand as of 2019. By the end of the day, the field was filled to 26 cars, of which 18 were eligible for "locked-in" positions.
|21||5||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd/Treadway Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||236.986|
|22||11||Scott Sharp||A. J. Foyt Enterprises||Lola||Ford Cosworth||231.201|
|23||41||Marco Greco||A. J. Foyt Enterprises||Lola||Ford Cosworth||228.840|
|24||54||Robbie Buhl||Beck Motorsports||Lola||Ford Cosworth||226.217|
|25||96||Paul Durant||ABF Motorsports||Lola||Buick||225.404|
|26||90||Racin Gardner||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||224.453|
|10||Brad Murphey||Hemelgarn Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||Engine trouble|
Practice (week 2)Edit
Monday May 13Edit
A light day of activity saw Tony Stewart lead the speed chart at 235.837 mph. Johnny O'Connell (216.024 mph) led the non-qualified cars and passed his rookie test, with Tyce Carlson bringing the total to 16 later that day in the Loop Hole Racing entry assigned to Dan Drinan.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||23||Tony Stewart||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||235.837|
|2||7||Eliseo Salazar||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||234.858|
|3||21||Roberto Guerrero||Pagan Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||234.308|
Tuesday May 14Edit
Brad Murphey led the non-qualified cars with a fast lap of 228.612 mph. Arie Luyendyk led all cars with a lap of 238.493 mph, faster than his official track record, and the second-fastest practice lap in Indy history.
Fermín Vélez completed his rookie test, while Billy Boat, who had signed to drive Pagan's second car, and Andy Michner took their first practice laps of the month. Just like Tyce Carlson, Michner was without a ride, and making his rookie test in Loop Hole Racing's car.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||35||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd/Treadway Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||238.493|
|2||23||Tony Stewart||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||234.821|
|3||44||Richie Hearn||Della Penna Motorsports||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||232.378|
Wednesday May 15Edit
Rain washed out practice for the day. It marked the third entire day lost to rain, and the eighth overall hampered by the weather.
Thursday May 16Edit
A fairly busy day saw 22 cars take nearly 900 laps. Arie Luyendyk once again led the speed chart, at 234.540 mph. Brad Murphey (225.875 mph) was the fastest of the non-qualified cars, with Johnny O'Connell also over 225 mph.
Rob Wilson, in a second Lola for Project Indy, took his first laps of the month. Scott Harrington and Billy Boat passed their rookie tests, but Harrington later crashed in turn 3. His team, which had few resources and was being assisted by Treadway Racing, would be unable to repair his car or buy another one in time for the second weekend of qualifying.
Justin Bell confirmed he would not attempt to qualify for the race, after Tempero-Giuffre Racing struggled for speed all month. Bell had not passed a single phase of his rookie test and had not turned a lap since May 9, when he clocked the fastest of his 55 laps at just 186 mph. Joe Gosek, who fell short of the 200 mph barrier at the wheel of the #25, had taken his place since May 10, his best effort so far having been a 203 mph lap on May 14.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||35||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd/Treadway Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||234.540|
|2||33||Michele Alboreto||Team Scandia||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||231.083|
|3||44||Richie Hearn||Della Penna Motorsports||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||230.669|
Friday May 17 - Death of Scott BraytonEdit
At 12:17 p.m., Scott Brayton, testing a back-up car, did a half-spin in the middle of turn two, and crashed hard into the outside wall exiting the turn. The car slid 600 feet to a stop down the backstretch. Brayton was found unconscious in the car, and was transported immediately to Methodist Hospital. He was pronounced dead at 12:50 p.m. EST. Brayton was killed instantly of basilar skull fracture.
The death cast a pall over the Speedway, and the entire racing community. It was determined that Brayton likely ran over a piece of debris in turn four or the mainstretch, which punctured his right rear tire. Unaware of the debris, he completed the lap at 228.606 mph, then drove into turn one. The tire suffered rapid deflation in the southchute and in turn two, causing the car to lose control.
The official report of fatality was not announced until 4 p.m. In the meantime, unaware of Brayton's condition, some other drivers resumed practice for a time. Arie Luyendyk posted the fastest lap overall at 234.870 mph, and Brad Murphey (228.548 mph) was the fastest of the non-qualified cars. When the news was released, nearly all participants stopped for the day.
Earlier that day, veteran Danny Ongais, who had been confirmed on Thursday, took his first laps in the Brickell Racing machine, while Andy Michner, Joe Gosek and Rob Wilson became the last drivers to complete their rookie tests, bringing the total to 22. Despite this, Michner stated he would not attempt to qualify for the race, as he felt he wasn't going to get "enough time to practice after qualifying to prepare for the race". He also said he had dismissed an offer to drive Foyt's back-up car, the #84.
After completing his rookie test, Joe Gosek got out of the #15 car. With help from the IRL, he landed a ride as the seventh driver for Team Scandia in the #43 car, which had been driven by Fermín Vélez during the week. Vélez would switch to the #34, Eliseo Salazar's back-up car, for qualifying. Tempero-Giuffre Racing didn't sign a replacement for Gosek, and their two locked-in entries were not qualified.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||35||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd/Treadway Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||234.870|
|2||23||Scott Brayton||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||230.126|
|3||4||Richie Hearn||Della Penna Motorsports||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||229.031|
Time trials (weekend 2)Edit
Third Day - Saturday May 18Edit
Track activity resumed after Friday's tragedy. At 9:35 a.m., Dan Drinan, who was unsuccessfully trying to improve his best lap of the month (215 mph) during the practice session, endured a heavy accident in turn 1, in a very similar fashion to Brayton's crash. He was transported to Methodist Hospital, reportedly alert and in stable condition, and underwent surgery that same day. Drinan suffered a concussion, fractures in his left hip and foot, and a bruised left lung, and was ruled out for qualifying.
Five drivers completed a qualification attempt, with Brad Murphey being the fastest at 226.053, and the field was filled to 31 cars by the end of the day. Danny Ongais, whose last race at the Speedway had been in 1986, completed a 20 laps refresher course, and was set to qualify on Bump Day, having logged the fastest lap among the non-qualified cars with a 220.194 mph lap. Meanwhile, Team Menard was reportedly looking for a driver to keep Brayton's car in the field as a tribute to their fallen driver. Al Unser, Geoff Brabham and John Andretti were some of the names being floated as potential candidates.
|27||10||Brad Murphey||Hemelgarn Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||226.053|
|28||16||Johnny Parsons||Blueprint Racing||Lola||Menard||223.843|
|29||34||Fermín Vélez||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||222.487|
|30||75||Johnny O'Connell||Cunningham Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||222.361|
|99||Billy Boat||Pagan Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||221.824|
Bump Day - Sunday May 19Edit
At 11:00 a.m., Team Menard announced that Danny Ongais would drive the #2 entry, vacated after the death of Scott Brayton. Due to the replacement, the car was moved to the back of the field, elevating Tony Stewart to the pole position. During the day, Ongais would complete 25 laps in a back-up car, with a best lap of 221.904 mph at the wheel of the #62 car. To replace Ongais, Brickell Racing signed Tyce Carlson, who had to "break" into a friend's car to retrieve his racing suit. Carlson had attempted to reach a deal to drive for Tempero–Giuffre Racing during the week, but it had fallen through.
At 1:50 p.m., Randy Tolsma, who had completed his best lap of the month at 214.843 mph, crashed in Turn 1, causing considerable damage to the #24 car. Zunne Group Racing lacked a spare, and Tolsma, who was uninjured, stated he was not considering offers to drive other cars for a qualification attempt. Veteran Hideshi Matsuda arrived at the track for the first time all month, and was quickly practicing over 227 mph. At 4 p.m., Matsuda, driving an "at-large" entry for Beck Motorsports, put his car safely in the field at 226.856 mph.
During the day, Scott Harrington rejoined the queue, having struck a deal to drive in Della Penna's back-up, a car that Teo Fabi had driven to an 8th place finish in 1995, and Billy Boat started practising in the #84 Foyt entry. Boat had already qualified the #99 Pagan entry, but was the slowest car in the field and had no "locked-in" berth. At 5:24 p.m., he crashed in turn 1 and complained of back and leg pain. Boat was not medically cleared to drive, and he would not be able to re-qualify if his car was bumped.
With 23 minutes to go, Harrington filled the field with a run of 222.185 mph, and immediately after, Joe Gosek bumped Boat out with a run of 222.793 mph, which dropped Harrington to the bubble spot. Tyce Carlson made two attempts in the closing minutes, but he was not fast enough to bump his way into the field, and Rob Wilson, with a best practice lap of 218.755 mph, didn't make a qualification attempt after failing to get over 215 mph on solo runs.
Despite the controversy regarding the "locked-in" entries, the "fastest 33 cars" did manage to make the field, and one bump did occur. None of the "locked-in" entries qualified slower than the slowest "at-large" entry, nor did any fail to meet the 220 mph requirement. At the end of qualifying, 17 rookies comprised the grid, a number that only trailed the 19 rookies that started the 1919 and 1930 editions, the latter among a 38-car field. Since then, no more than 12 rookies (1931, 1932, 1951) had started an Indy 500, and the 1981 race had been the last with at least 10 rookie drivers. Neither of the 17 rookies had previous racing experience in a superspeedway at more than 200 mph, and 13 of them had never competed in an Indy car race prior to 1996. Also, three rookies were making their Indy car debut: Racin Gardner, Brad Murphey and Joe Gosek.
|30||52||Hideshi Matsuda||Beck Motorsports||Lola||Ford Cosworth||226.856|
|31||43||Joe Gosek||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||222.793|
|32||44||Scott Harrington||Della Penna Motorsports||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||222.185|
|Failed to qualify|
|99||Billy Boat||Pagan Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||Bumped / 221.824|
|77||Tyce Carlson||Brickell Racing||Lola||Menard||Too slow / 221.201|
|46||Rob Wilson||Project Indy||Lola||Ford Cosworth||No attempt|
|36||Dan Drinan||Loop Hole Racing||Lola||Buick||Crashed in practice|
|24||Randy Tolsma||Zunne Group Racing||Lola||Ford Cosworth||Crashed in practice|
The final practice session was scheduled for Thursday May 23. Rain delayed the start of final practice until 12:52 p.m. Stéphan Grégoire suffered an oil leak, Brad Murphey coasted back to the pits with low oil pressure, Paul Durant suffered a blown engine, and Buzz Calkins had a minor pit fire. The most serious incident of the day involved Johnny Unser, who crashed in turn 4. Damage was moderate, and Unser was not injured.
Rain stopped the session at 1:49 p.m., and Tony Stewart (231.273 mph) was the fastest car of the day. Danny Ongais was only able to complete 17 laps in his only run at the wheel of the #32 before the race, finishing 7th with a best lap of 226.364 mph.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||20||Tony Stewart||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||231.273|
|2||3||Eddie Cheever||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||230.621|
|3||91||Buddy Lazier||Hemelgarn Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||230.598|
Pit Stop ContestEdit
|Pagan Racing (Guerrero)||20.488|
|Pagan Racing (Guerrero)||19.108||Team Menard (Stewart)||DQ|
|Team Scandia (Salazar)||DQ||Galles Racing (Jones)||14.176|
|Pagan Racing (Guerrero)||16.368|
|Galles Racing (Jones)||13.925|
|Team Scandia (Cheever)||18.615|
|1||20||Tony Stewart||70||Davy Jones||7||Eliseo Salazar|
|2||3||Eddie Cheever||91||Buddy Lazier||21||Roberto Guerrero|
|3||8||Alessandro Zampedri||22||Michel Jourdain Jr.||12||Buzz Calkins|
|4||14||Davey Hamilton||60||Mike Groff||33||Michele Alboreto|
|5||9||Stéphan Grégoire||30||Mark Dismore||4||Richie Hearn|
|6||64||Johnny Unser||18||John Paul Jr.||45||Lyn St. James|
|7||27||Jim Guthrie||5||Arie Luyendyk||11||Scott Sharp|
|8||41||Marco Greco||54||Robbie Buhl||96||Paul Durant|
|9||90||Racin Gardner||10||Brad Murphey||16||Johnny Parsons|
|10||34||Fermín Vélez||75||Johnny O'Connell||52||Hideshi Matsuda|
|11||43||Joe Gosek||44||Scott Harrington||32||Danny Ongais*|
*Scott Brayton officially qualified for the pole position, but was killed in a practice crash on May 17. Danny Ongais substituted in the car on race day; in accordance with USAC rules Ongais had to start at the rear of the field.
Morning rain threatened to delay the start, but the track was effectively dried. The schedule, however, was pushed by 5 minutes, as the engines were stopped for a brief period shortly after Mary Fendrich Hulman gave the starting command, because USAC had not finished their inspection. It would be the final time Hulman would give the starting command for the "500." After some hesitation, the field pulled away for the pace laps.
Hideshi Matsuda stalled on the frontstretch, and was pushed to the pits. He would re-join the field for the pace lap. During the first parade lap, Danny Ongais (driving Scott Brayton's car) lagged behind the field, and drove one memorial parade lap alone to salute Brayton's memory. On the second parade lap, Johnny Unser coasted into the pits with a transmission failure, and dropped out before the green flag.
A conservative, slow, ragged start saw Tony Stewart retain the lead into turn one, while Eliseo Salazar overcame Davy Jones for second, and Roberto Guerrero jumped Eddie Cheever and Buddy Lazier for fourth. Most of the field completed the first lap at a slow pace, but Stewart ran an average of 208 mph, and was running a record pace of 221.965 mph after two laps.
At the start, Mark Dismore did a half-spin in turn one, and kicked up mud from the infield. Debris from the incident brought out the yellow on lap 3, while Dismore ducked into the pits repeatedly to check the car over. Under the yellow, Scott Harrington was catching up to the tail-end of the field down the backstretch, but approached too quickly. He locked up the brakes, nearly hit three cars, and spun undamaged into the warm-up lane on Turn 3.
After three green flag laps, Paul Durant blew an engine down the backstretch on Lap 11 and ducked into the warm-up lane, but spun in his own fluid and into the racing line on Turn 1. At the restart on Lap 18, Danny Ongais lost control, and spun harmlessly through turn four. Thus, the first representative green flag period, and the longest of the race, didn't start until Lap 21. Having started 20th, Arie Luyendyk had already charged into 11th place before the first caution, and into eighth place before the second, also passing Alessandro Zampedri a few laps later.
Tony Stewart set a rookie record by leading the first 31 laps before his first pit stop, which was considered an early one compared to his rivals, and which brought concerns over Team Menard's fuel mileage. Some seven seconds back, the pursuit was led by Roberto Guerrero, who had taken advantage of the restarts to pass Davy Jones and Eliseo Salazar. On those first stops, Eddie Cheever dropped out of contention from fifth place because of a bad air wrench. Jones, meanwhile, had a slow stop that dropped him down to eighth, prompting Galles Racing to adopt a different fuel strategy from then on.
Being 11 seconds behind Stewart, Eliseo Salazar went back to second place on Lap 47, while Arie Luyendyk, already in fifth place, had touched the wall twice over a push condition, without damage. Caution would come out on Lap 50 after Johnny Parsons blew an engine, and Tony Stewart elected to pit again to rearrange his fuel situation, rejoining fourth, as well as Salazar. Roberto Guerrero led on the restart while Luyendyk unsuccessfully tried to pass Buddy Lazier, who was benefitted by traffic. Ten laps later, Stéphan Grégoire retired with engine problems, having climbed up to fifth after a well-timed first stop.
A caution came out for debris on Lap 70, and a large group of drivers elected to pit. Roberto Guerrero lost half a minute on his stop after a problem with his fuel nozzle and a brief stall. Arie Luyendyk had also lost positions to Tony Stewart, Eliseo Salazar and Alessandro Zampedri, but the Dutch would pass Salazar and Zampedri on the restart, led by Davy Jones, who would make his pit stop under green flag on Lap 87.
Just before the caution, Tony Stewart started having problems with his boost pressure, with his engineers fearing it would be related with a pop-off valve issue. Stewart, however, went after Buddy Lazier in a close pursuit when the race resumed. On Lap 81, his engine let go, pitting a lap later to retire from the race. Stewart blamed it on the unpopular pop-off valves delivered by USAC, which he described as "junk" and "garbage". Despite not finishing, he would be awarded as the Rookie of the Year. Just behind him, Eddie Cheever made a pit stop, only to spin in front of his car when he tried to rejoin the track.
Arie Luyendyk caught with Buddy Lazier and both engaged in a close pursuit until Lap 94, when the caution came out after a crash by Brad Murphey in Turn 2. The leaders headed to the pits, and Luyendyk was on his way to beat Lazier, but he stalled the car. After it was refired, Luyendyk managed to enter the warm-up lane a few inches in front of Eliseo Salazar, who was on his right side. Then, Salazar suddenly turned down on Luyendyk, the cars touched, and Salazar went spinning wildly through the grass and out onto the track itself. Luyendyk suffered a damaged nosecone, broken suspension and broken bodywork, and the repairs made him lose five laps, later retiring from the race with 50 laps to go. Salazar's car also suffered heavy damage in his sidepod, but it was repaired, and only lost a couple laps.
With Luyendyk, the lone former winner, out of contention, the race would be won by a first-time winner.
At the halfway point, eleven cars had dropped out of the race, with nine more retirements coming up in the following 50 laps. The race restarted on Lap 105 with Davy Jones in the lead. He soon put a 10 second gap on Roberto Guerrero, who had passed Buddy Lazier on the restart. At that point, there were six cars on the lead lap.
Twelve laps down, Fermín Vélez suffered a huge fire on his car while on the backstraight, bringing out the yellow on Lap 119. During the caution, Mike Groff, one of the lead lap cars in fifth place, suffered a broken oil line that spilled into his cockpit, although he managed to reach his pit box before rushing out of the car uninjured. Davy Jones and Roberto Guerrero pitted during the caution, leaving Buddy Lazier in the lead when the race restarted. Both Jones and Guerrero rapidly closed the gap on him and Alessandro Zampedri, who stayed a second behind.
A timely caution on Lap 132, brought out by Mark Dismore's broken engine, set the stage in terms of fuel mileage. Buddy Lazier, Alessandro Zampedri and Richie Hearn pitted, the Italian driver making an additional stop to top off on fuel before the restart, which put them in position to finish the race with one more pit stop. Both Davy Jones and Roberto Guerrero needed a caution before one of their two expected pit stops, or after their rivals' one. The Colombian driver had passed Jones on Lap 129, led the field at the restart, and held off an attempt at an outside pass by Jones on Turn 3. Jim Guthrie pulled into the warm up lane after 148 laps on Turn 3 with a fire in his car, although the race stayed green.
On lap 150, IRL points leader Buzz Calkins retired from the race after a right rear upright broke heading into Turn 1. After stretching their tanks as far as possible, Roberto Guerrero stopped on Lap 160, and Davy Jones followed suit a lap later. Jones' faster stop put him several seconds ahead. However, if the race ran all the way to the end under green, Jones and Guerrero were expected to run out of fuel in the final two laps. Moments later, Scott Harrington, running 16th some nine laps down, collided with Lyn St. James, five laps down in 15th place, while trying to pass her on the inside of Turn 1. Both crashed hard into the outside wall, with St. James suffering a broken wrist. The resulting caution fixed Jones and Guerrero's fuel issues, but not their track position dilemma.
Under yellow, Buddy Lazier was able to make his final scheduled stop on Lap 167, with plenty of fuel to make the distance. It was a slow stop, however, as he exited the pits behind Alessandro Zampedri. Guerrero also ducked into the pits to top the car off, but the refueler inserted the nozzle awkwardly, the fuel spilled, and the car caught fire. The car was good enough to continue, but his two-way radio became disconnected, and it was feared it would not have enough fuel to make it to the end. Jones stayed out, gambling on fuel, and took over the lead over Zampedri, Lazier, Guerrero and Richie Hearn, the final car on the lead lap, who also pitted.
For the restart, the lapped car of Eliseo Salazar was lined up just in front of Jones. As the green came out on Lap 169, Salazar blocked Jones exiting turn four. Down the frontstretch, Jones attempted to pass Salazar, but the Chilean swiped to the inside, forcing Jones to brush the inside wall. It was Salazar's second controversial move of the race, with Scandia's team owner Andy Evans admitting it was intentional, in an attempt to help Zampedri. The Italian took a hold of the situation and passed Jones on the outside of Turn 1. Over his stint as the race leader, his team became increasingly worried over the car's fuel consumption, at two miles per gallon, not being low enough to make it to the end.
Davy Jones managed to stay within a second of Alessandro Zampedri for about 20 laps, despite some suspension damage from the Salazar incident, and being low on fuel, with Buddy Lazier some three seconds behind. On Lap 189, Zampedri's car developed handling issues and he run high in Turn 3, allowing Jones to take the lead on the inside of Turn 4. A lap later, Lazier used Turn 3 to pass Zampedri on the outside, and went after Jones, who was told by the team to enter in "full lean mode". Lazier, running full-rich, passed Jones for the lead down the front stretch with 8 laps to go, and began to pull away, running laps over 232 mph.
With six laps to go, Eddie Cheever's car began smoking in Turn 2, laying down fluid on the track. Two laps later, also in Turn 2, Scott Sharp spun out of sixth place, and crashed into the inside wall. During the caution, as he had done previously, Lazier would raise his hands out of the cockpit to stretch his fingers and alleviate his back pain. Track crews quickly cleaned up the incident, and the race was restarted with one lap to go, the white and green flag being displayed at the starter's stand simultaneously.
Decisively, Lazier had managed to lap Michel Jourdain Jr. before the caution came out, and Jones, who had the chance to run full speed to try and catch Lazier, lagged too far behind to make an early move on Jourdain, having to do so on the backstraight. It was enough for Lazier, who held off the challenge to win his first Indy 500 and get his first Indy car race win. Six seconds behind, rookie Richie Hearn finished third, having passed Zampedri just before the caution. It was the first Indy car podium finish for all three drivers, who accounted for a total of six top-10 finishes between them before this race: Lazier and Jones had never finished higher than seventh.
As the leaders crossed the finish line, a serious crash occurred in Turn 4. Fifth-placed Roberto Guerrero, who had lost a lap after pitting with 10 to go, was not aware he was a lap ahead of Eliseo Salazar because of his two-way radio not working. Running hard on the final lap, he spun in turn 4 and slid in front of the cars of Zampedri and Salazar. Zampedri's car was pushed up, and flew up into the catch fence, suffering serious injuries to his feet that would sideline him for a year. Salazar slid underneath Zampedri's car, and wrecked into the outside wall. Guerrero slid down the track, and came to rest in the pit area. Despite this, all three drivers retained their positions because of the high attrition, and the fact that the nearest contenders (Danny Ongais, Hideshi Matsuda and Robbie Buhl) were 3 laps down.
The victory was Buddy Lazier's first win in championship-level Indy car competition. Lazier had won races, and a championship, in the American Indycar Series, a minor league series that utilized CART machines, but his previous best finish in CART competition had been a 7th place at Michigan in 1992. In fact, he had never seen the checkered flag in his three previous Indy 500 runnings, having failed to qualify for the race four times. Lazier became the first American to get his first Indy car win at the Indy 500 since Troy Ruttman in 1952, and the third driver ever since, following in the footsteps of Formula 1 legend Graham Hill (1966) and Arie Luyendyk (1990). Since 1996, only Alexander Rossi (2016) has won its first Indy car race at the Indy 500. For Davy Jones (2nd), Alessandro Zampedri (4th) and Hideshi Matsuda (8th), this would be the best result of their Indy car careers.
At the conclusion of the race, Scott Sharp and Buzz Calkins wound up tied for first place in the points championship. There was no tie-breaker stipulated in the regulations at the time, and so, both were declared co-champions for the inaugural IRL season. If previous and later tie-breaker rules were in place, Calkins would have been declared champion, as he had the highest finishing position among the two with his win at Walt Disney World Speedway. Additionally, he went on to score the most points out of all IRL drivers in the calendar year 1996, if points from the New Hampshire and Las Vegas races were to be added.
Lazier's victory was the eighth Indy 500 win for a Ford-badged engine, which have not been raced again in the race as to date. Ford-Cosworth provided engines to the IRL for the five 1996 races, but generally sided with CART during the open-wheel racing split. The company did consult with the IRL during planning stages for the 1997 normally aspirated engine formula, but ultimately elected not to build engines to those specs. Ford-Cosworth continued to focus on CART and Champ Car, eventually ending its support after the 2008 merger.
|Tire participation chart|
|Supplier||No. of starters|
|* - Denotes race winner|
Standings after the raceEdit
The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Bob Jenkins served as chief announcer for the sixth year. Johnny Rutherford served as "driver expert." The first 500 as part of the Indy Racing League saw a few changes on the broadcasting crew.
Larry Henry left the crew, and instead joined the CART radio network (which was anchored by Lou Palmer). Bob Forbes and Sally Larvick were also gone from the on-air team. Gary Lee shifted over to fill the vacancy in turn three, while newcomers Vince Welch and Mark Jaynes joined as pit reporters.
The race was carried live flag-to-flag coverage in the United States on ABC Sports. ABC announced that they had signed a two-year deal to televise all the events of the newly formed Indy Racing League. The deal would include all events contested in 1996, and carry through the 1997 Indy 500. On pole day of the 1996 race, ABC signed a two-year extension with the Speedway to cover the Indy 500 itself through 1999.
The ratings for the 1996 telecast dropped considerably from a 9.4/28 share in 1995 to a 7.1/23. This was largely attributed to the ongoing controversy regarding the IRL/CART "split" and the rival U.S. 500 broadcast, which overlapped slightly on ESPN.