Rookies Buddy Lazier and Hiro Matsushita took advantage of almost perfect qualifying weather to steal the limelight from a pair of Indianapolis 500 veterans on Saturday.
But, despite overcast skies, light winds and temperatures in the upper-60s that made conditions on the 21/2-mile oval nearly ideal, there were only seven qualifiers, six of them in the first 35 minutes after the track was opened for the third of four days of time trials for the May 26 race.That left four spots to be filled in the 33-car starting lineup on Sunday, the final day of qualifications.
Among Saturday's qualifiers were 1983 Indy winner Tom Sneva and two-time runner-up Roberto Guerrero, both of whom came up with rides late in the week.
But it was Lazier, a former ski racer, and Matsushita, the first Japanese driver to compete, who led the way, both turning four-lap, 10-mile qualifying runs over 218 mph.
Lazier's father, Bob, who finished 19th in 1981 in his only Indy start, was watching as his son became the second fastest first-year qualifier at 218.692 mph and earned $20,000 as the day's fastest. He was the only afternoon qualifier.
"You could see the joy in his eyes, which is fantastic because he's always been very close with me," Buddy said of his father. "He's kind of my personal mentor and coach and best friend. So I'm sure he's feeling great."
As for his own feelings, he said, "It feels great when you've been working a long time and finally get closer to what you're working toward."
Matsushita, 30, born in Kobe, Japan, and living in San Clemente, Calif., qualified a third car for owner Dick Simon at 218.141.
"I spend five years in American racing," said Matsushita, who first raced Formula Fords in 1987. "When I'm driving a car, I never think I'm Japanese or I'm something else. But I know I make history of Japanese racing, and I'm very proud."
"The setup was very good, and the track was very cool," Matsushita said. "I just drove very easy."
Sneva, who didn't even run a practice lap until Saturday morning, is the slowest of the first 29 qualifiers at 213.189 mph.