By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
INDIANAPOLIS – Brian Belardi got his first taste of the emotions that come with attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
The co-owner of the No. 33 Foyt with Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi entry endured a 24 hours that saw driver James Davison crash on Friday, only to come back and take the final spot among the field of 33 on Bump Day qualifying on Saturday.
The four-lap average of 224.798 mph (2 minutes, 40.1439 seconds) around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was enough to keep him on the bubble late in the going despite other driver’s best efforts.
“From yesterday to today, it was just a real whirlwind with everything the crew went through to get the car ready overnight,” said Belardi, who is also a full-time team owner in Indy Lights – the top step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
“I mean, just working their butts off and pulling an all-nighter. James’ attitude is phenomenal, but still there was that nervousness. We know we’re a little bit down on speed. How much do we risk (in the race)? But right now, I’m on top of the world. So this will be the first Indy 500 that I actually will be at. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Among the six combined practice sessions in the week leading up, Davison ended 34th overall on the timesheets at 226.705 mph (39.3991 seconds) and completed 227 total laps. Despite the pace, Belardi believes a balanced race car for the 200-lap race could prove to be the right formula on May 27.
“There’s two different types of pace that I think we’re down,” added Belardi. “Obviously, our qualifying speeds are towards the back, but I think we have a very good race car.
“I think it’ll be a struggle for most of the field to actually find the right balance for passing and whatever happens during the race. Our biggest goal (yesterday) was just to get in. Anything can happen once you get into the race.”
This outing is a one-off for Belardi in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but there’s been a lot learned as he looks at the possibilities of doing more moving forward.
“I need to go see my doctor and go get a bigger dose of lisinopril for my blood pressure,” said Belardi.
“No, but it’s been interesting. I mean, I’ve learned an awful lot. The expertise with the crew, the engineering – Steve Moore, crew chief, has just done a phenomenal job putting, even though this is a one off effort, a bunch of veteran Indy car mechanics on the car. They just seem to gel flawlessly. I think that’s important.
“It’s important (also) in Indy Lights, and any racing situation you need that cohesiveness within the team. Honestly, this week, it’s peaks and valleys.
Still in shock of the moment, Belardi couldn’t escape his thoughts on the magnitude of the moment in making the Indy 500.
“(Friday), I was on the pit box and then all of a sudden I saw the backend step out I was like, ‘Oh no,’ but you just learn how to deal with all of it. That’s just part of racing. Then, obviously (yesterday), there’s so many things that kind of had to fall our way.
“I mean, there were so many breaks with things that were going on in that last half hour. It was just gut-wrenching, but that’s the stress you have to deal with in racing.”