1996 Indianapolis 500
|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|
|Estimated attendance||300,000 (estimated)|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Paul Page, Danny Sullivan, and Bobby Unser|
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.
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. However, 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 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 they returned in 2012), on a newly repaved track, all-time track record speeds would be set during practice and time trials. Arie Luyendyk set the 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 2017. 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.
- 1 Background
- 2 Race schedule
- 3 Practice (week 1)
- 4 Time trials (weekend 1)
- 5 Practice (week 2)
- 6 Time trials (weekend 2)
- 7 Carburetion Day
- 8 Starting Grid
- 9 Race summary
- 10 Box score
- 11 Standings after the race
- 12 Broadcasting
- 13 Notes
- 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 sanctioned the sport of Indy car racing since 1979, with the sole exception of the Indianapolis 500 itself, which was sanctioned singly by USAC. However, an arrangement had been in place since the early 1980s to recognize the Indy 500 on the CART schedule, and the points would be awarded towards the CART championship.
George blueprinted the IRL 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 teams
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 (the only Mercedes entered) in a one-off entry for Davy Jones, while Walker entered a car in the race for Mike Groff.
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 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 1996
For the 1996 IRL season, 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.
As had been allowed for several years, the "stock block" production-based engines (e.g. Buick & Menard) would be allowed 55 inHG, and the OHC 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 cid purpose-built pushrod engines (e.g., the Mercedes-Benz 500I) were formally banned for 1996.
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 entries
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.
Since three of the "locked-in" entries made no attempt to qualify, only 22 of the positions were initially "locked-in." After Brayton's forfeit of the #2 car, only 21 of the 33 starting positions were locked-in. The field included 12 at-large entries. The 1996 U.S. 500 had 27 starting drivers.
Practice (week 1)
Saturday May 4 - Opening Day
Rookie orientation was scheduled for Opening Day. However, rain washed out the entire first day of practice.
Sunday May 5 - Rookie Orientation
Opening day was reserved for rookie orientation, largely due to the overwhelming number of Indy 500 rookies entered. A cool morning saw only a half-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 (R)||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||193.957|
|2||23||Mark Dismore (R)||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||193.569|
|3||33||Michele Alboreto (R)||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||188.648|
Monday May 6 - Rookie Orientation
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 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 (R)||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||237.336|
|2||30||Mark Dismore (R)||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||228.566|
|3||22||Michel Jourdain Jr. (R)||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||228.154|
Tuesday May 7
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.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||20||Tony Stewart (R)||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 8
Rain washed out practice for the day, the second day of the month completely lost to weather.
Thursday May 9
A windy but warm day saw heavy action. Arie Luyendyk ran the fastest practice lap in Speedway history, 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 (R)||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||237.336|
|3||2||Scott Brayton||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||235.750|
Friday May 10
"Fast Friday," the final day of practice before time trials saw the fastest laps turned in Indy history. Shortly after the track opened, Scott Brayton ran his fastest lap of the month, 235.688 mph. Tony Stewart ran a 236.004 mph, while Scott Sharp ran a 235.300 mph lap.
At 12:29 p.m., Arie Luyendyk completed a lap at 238.045 mph, the fastest lap thus far during the month. A half hour later, he ran the fastest practice lap in Speedway history, 239.260 mph (37.616 seconds). Luyendyk's lap was 0.106 seconds shy of the elusive 240 mph barrier, and as of 2017, still stands as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one-lap unofficial track record.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||35||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd/Treadway Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||239.260|
|2||20||Tony Stewart (R)||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||236.004|
|3||11||Scott Sharp||A. J. Foyt Enterprises||Lola||Ford Cosworth||235.701|
Time trials (weekend 1)
Pole Day - Saturday May 11
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, 233.100 mph. Stewart became 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. With 33 minutes left in the day, Arie Luyendyk took to the track, and set new all-time track records. A one-lap record 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 with helmet in hand. The team withdrew their already-qualified car #2, and Brayton was preparing to re-qualify in a back-up car. By withdrawing car #2, the team forfeited their "locked-in" status, however, Brayton would be eligible to run for the pole another time. The risky and bold move shocked many in attendance, and fans were anxious to see if Brayton's gamble would pay off. Brayton's four-lap average of 233.718 mph was just fast enough to take the pole position, and he set yet another four-lap track record. Luyendyk's one-lap record of 234.742 mph, 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 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 of 233.718 mph. Despite being disqualified at the end of the day 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 12
- 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 20th (behind the first-day qualifiers). Luyendyk's one and four lap track records still stand as of 2017. 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 (R)||Beck Motorsports||Lola||Ford Cosworth||226.217|
|25||96||Paul Durant (R)||ABF Motorsports||Lola||Buick||225.404|
|26||90||Racin Gardner (R)||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||224.453|
|10||Brad Murphey (R)||Hemelgarn Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||Engine trouble|
Practice (week 2)
Monday May 13
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 (R)||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 14
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 (R)||Team Menard||Lola||Menard||234.821|
|3||44||Richie Hearn (R)||Della Penna Motorsports||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||232.378|
Wednesday May 15
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 16
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 (R)||Team Scandia||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||231.083|
|3||44||Richie Hearn (R)||Della Penna Motorsports||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||230.669|
Friday May 17 - Death of Scott Brayton
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 (R)||Della Penna Motorsports||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||229.031|
Time trials (weekend 2)
Third Day - Saturday May 18
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.
|27||10||Brad Murphey (R)||Hemelgarn Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||226.053|
|28||16||Johnny Parsons||Blueprint Racing||Lola||Menard||223.843|
|29||43||Fermín Vélez (R)||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||222.487|
|30||75||Johnny O'Connell (R)||Cunningham Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||222.361|
|99||Billy Boat (R)||Hemelgarn Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||221.824|
Bump Day - Sunday May 19
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 will be moved to the back of the field, elevating Tony Stewart to the pole position. Brickell Racing signed Tyce Carlson as his substitute, with the driver having to "break" into a friend's car to retrieve his racing suit.
At 1:50 p.m., Randy Tolsma 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 226.859 mph.
During the day, Scott Harrington rejoined the queue in a last-minute deal to drive in Della Penna's back-up, 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, whose fastest lap in practice had been slightly under 215 mph, didn't make a qualification attempt.
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.
|30||52||Hideshi Matsuda||Beck Motorsports||Lola||Ford Cosworth||226.856|
|31||43||Joe Gosek (R)||Team Scandia||Lola||Ford Cosworth||222.793|
|32||44||Scott Harrington (R)||Della Penna Motorsports||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||222.185|
|Failed to qualify|
|99||Billy Boat (R)||Hemelgarn Racing||Reynard||Ford Cosworth||Bumped / 221.824|
|77||Tyce Carlson (R)||Brickell Racing||Lola||Menard||Too slow / 221.201|
|46||Rob Wilson (R)||Project Indy||Lola||Ford Cosworth||No attempt|
|36||Dan Drinan (R)||Loop Hole Racing||Lola||Buick||Crashed in practice|
|24||Randy Tolsma (R)||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.
|Top practice speeds|
|1||20||Tony Stewart (R)||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 Contest
|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 (R)||70||Davy Jones||7||Eliseo Salazar|
|2||3||Eddie Cheever||91||Buddy Lazier||21||Roberto Guerrero|
|3||8||Alessandro Zampedri||22||Michel Jourdain Jr. (R)||12||Buzz Calkins (R)|
|4||14||Davey Hamilton (R)||60||Mike Groff||33||Michele Alboreto (R)|
|5||9||Stéphan Grégoire||30||Mark Dismore (R)||4||Richie Hearn (R)|
|6||64||Johnny Unser (R)||18||John Paul Jr.||45||Lyn St. James|
|7||27||Jim Guthrie (R)||5||Arie Luyendyk (W)||11||Scott Sharp|
|8||41||Marco Greco||54||Robbie Buhl (R)||96||Paul Durant (R)|
|9||90||Racin Gardner (R)||10||Brad Murphey (R)||16||Johnny Parsons|
|10||34||Fermín Vélez (R)||75||Johnny O'Connell (R)||52||Hideshi Matsuda|
|11||43||Joe Gosek (R)||44||Scott Harrington (R)||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 dried, and the schedule was only pushed back by about 5 minutes. Mary Fendrich Hulman gave the starting command just before 11 a.m. EST, and after some hesitation, the field pulled away for the pace laps. It would be the final time Hulman would give the starting command for the "500." Danny Ongais (driving Scott Brayton's car) lagged behind the field, and drove one memorial parade lap alone to salute Brayton's memory.
During the first parade lap, Hideshi Matsuda stalled on the frontstretch, and was pushed to the pits. He would re-join the field for the pace lap. 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 take the lead into turn one. Mark Dismore did a half-spin in turn one, and kicked up mud from the infield. Most of the field completed the first lap at a slow pace, but Stewart completed the lap over 208 mph. After two laps, Stewart was running a record pace of 221.965 mph. Mark Dismore ducked into the pits to check the car over. The racing was short-lived, as debris from the Dismore incident brought out the yellow on lap 3.
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.
Arie Luyendyk began charging through the field, and by lap 10, was already amongst the top ten. Two spins slowed the early running. Paul Durant blew an engine down the backstretch on lap 11, ducked into the warm-up lane, but spun in his own fluid. On the restart, Danny Ongais lost control, and spun harmlessly through turn four.
Tony Stewart set a rookie record by leading the first 31 laps. His day ended on lap 82, however, when he lost an engine, due to a bad pop-off valve. Despite not finishing, he secured the rookie of the year award.
Roberto Guerrero came to the lead after Stewart dropped out. During his second pit stop, however, the fuel nozzle malfunctioned, and his stop lasted over a minute. Luyendyk, battling pushing condition, brushed the wall on lap 62, but still picked his way to the front, running second to Buddy Lazier.
On lap 94, the caution came out after a crash by Brad Murphey, and the leaders headed to the pits. Buddy Lazier exited first, while Arie Luyendyk stalled. Luyendyk lost a few seconds as he refired. As he entered the warm-up lane he was side-by-side with Eliseo Salazar. In turn one, Salazar intentionally 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, broken bodywork, and eventually dropped out of the race. Salazar's car also suffered damage, but he was repaired, and continued a couple laps down.
With Luyendyk, the lone former winner, out of the race, the race would be won by a first-time winner.
On lap 160-161, the leaders began making green flag pit stops. Looking to possibly go the entire distance, Roberto Guerrero, followed by Jones, took on fuel and four tires. Jones' faster stop put him several seconds ahead. However, if the race stayed green, Jones and Guerrero were expected to run out of fuel in the final two laps. Moments later, Scott Harrington and Lyn St. James touched wheels in turn one, and crashed hard into the outside wall.
The caution brought some cars into the pits to top off the fuel. Buddy Lazier was able to make his final scheduled stop under yellow on lap 167, and would have new tires and plenty of fuel to make the distance. Guerrero also ducked into the pits to top the car off. The refueler inserted the nozzle awkwardly, fuel spilled, and the car caught fire. He started to climb out of the car, but it was determined the car was OK to continue, and it was restarted. In the melee, he lost a lap and his two-way radio became disconnected. Jones stayed out, gambling on fuel, and took over the lead.
On lap 169, the field came out of turn four for a restart with Jones leading Alessandro Zampedri now second, Richie Hearn third, and Lazier (4th) the final car on the lead lap. Guerrero was now a lap down in 5th. The lapped car of Eliseo Salazar was lined up just in front of Jones. As the green came out, Salazar blocked Jones exiting turn four. Down the frontstretch, Jones attempted to pass Salazar, but Salazar swiped to the inside, forcing Jones to brush the inside wall. Zampedri (Salazar's teammate) quickly took over the lead.
With just over ten laps to go, Alessandro Zampedri led Davy Jones and Buddy Lazier. All three cars ran close together. Zampedri began suffering handling problems, and Jones took the lead back on lap 190. One lap later, Lazier passed Zampedri on the outside going into turn three to take over second place. Lazier was now the fastest car on the track.
With less than 9 laps to go, Jones was forced to go lean and conserve fuel, and was nursing possible suspension damage from the Salazar incident. Lazier, however, was running full-rich, and reeled him in quickly. He passed Jones for the lead down the front stretch with 8 laps to go. Lazier began to pull away, and ran a lap of 232.9 mph.
On lap 194, Eddie Cheever in one of the remaining Menard entries began smoking in turn two, which laid down fluid on the track. Two laps later, Scott Sharp spun, and crashed into the inside wall. The yellow came out with Lazier leading, and a lap car between him and Jones who was in second. Track crews quickly cleaned up the incident. As they completed lap 198, USAC flagman Duane Sweeney indicated they would go back to green for the final lap.
As the field came off turn four on the 199th lap, the white flag and green flag were displayed at the starter's stand. Lazier accelerated into turn one. Jones passed the lap car of Jourdain down the backstretch. Lazier held off the challenge to win his first Indy 500 and first Indy car race.
As the leaders crossed the finish line, a serious crash occurred further back in the field. Fifth-place Roberto Guerrero was running without a two-way radio (it became disconnected during his pit fire), and was not aware he was a lap ahead of sixth place. Running hard on the final lap, he spun in turn 4 and slid in front of the cars of Zampedri and Eliseo Salazar. Zampedri's car was pushed up, and flew up into the catch fence. 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. Zampedri suffered serious injuries to his wrist and feet.
Lazier's victory would be the final Indy 500 victory to-date (2016) for a Ford-badged engine. Ford-Cosworth somewhat grudgingly provided engines to the IRL for the five 1996 races, but generally sided with CART during 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 2007.
|Tire participation chart|
|Supplier||No. of starters|
|* - Denotes race winner|
Standings after the race
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.