As the minutes ticked away Sunday, the final day of qualifications for next week's Indianapolis 500, Roberto Moreno and his team took stock of their situation.
With less than an hour to go until the 33-car field was set for the May 27 race, the 48-year-old Brazilian, hoping to drive in his third 500 in 21 years, was "on the bubble," the slowest qualifier in the lineup at 216.229 mph.
Moreno said he was sure that wasn't going to be fast enough.
As he got more comfortable in his car Sunday, Moreno's practice speeds climbed and he knew it was time to get aggressive instead of waiting for a faster car to bump him.
"I saw that I achieved 220 (mph) and was solid in the car and said, 'OK, guys, that's enough. Let's go for it.' "
Moreno, who got his ride in the No. 77 Chastain Motorsports car on Friday, the day after Stephan Gregoire crashed, fracturing a vertebra, was up to the challenge. His first lap was over 219.8 and the next three were all over 220, giving him an average of 220.299 &
more than 4 mph faster than the speed he posted on Saturday.
"Yesterday, we were not ready for it," Moreno said. "We played around too much with the car. I told my engineer to just make me comfortable so I could go flat around this track. I'd never done that. My cars I drove before, I never drove flat here."
Moreno, who finished 19th in 1986 and 20th in 1999, was so happy with his run on Sunday, he took his hands off the steering wheel before he completed the final lap, raising his arms in triumph and shaking his fists.
Ironically, it turned out his first qualifying speed would have made the lineup anyway. But Moreno didn't care.
"Now I know I have a good car to race next week," he said.
Moreno joined Richie Hearn and rookie Phil Giebler as Sunday qualifiers, with Jimmy Kite, who began the day with the slowest speed (214.528) among the 32 drivers already in the lineup, the only driver bumped out.
Hearn's deal was even more last-minute than Moreno's.
Hearn, whose last of six previous Indy starts was in 2005, signed Saturday with longtime IndyCar team owner Ron Hemelgarn and co-owner-driver Jon Herb, then had to wait as the Hemelgarn/Racing Professionals team put together Herb's backup car for him.
The No. 91 Dallara, with no sponsorship on the sidepods, made it out to the pit lane late on Saturday, but Hearn never made it onto the 2.5-mile Indy oval until Sunday morning.
Hearn, who finished third here as a rookie in 1996 and sixth in 2002, quickly got the car up to speed in practice. He then filled the 33rd spot in the field with about three hours remaining on the last of four days of time trials for the 91st 500-mile race, posting a speed of 219.860.
"There wasn't really a lot of rides available without bringing money," Hearn said. "I tried, but I couldn't put anything together until I talked with Ron and John. They had some offers from guys with money, but they put their trust in me."
He joined teammate Herb, who qualified Saturday after being bumped twice on the opening weekend of time trials, in the lineup. Hearn said he's confident the car could go a lot faster but didn't want to waste time and take chances.
"I did a run just before that and did 219s and thought, 'Why not?' That was good enough to keep some people behind me," Hearn said.
Next came Giebler, returning to the track less than 24 hours after crashing during his first qualifying attempt.
Giebler, who drives for Playa Del Racing, turned three laps at more than 221 mph on Saturday before hitting the wall in turn two. His team worked through the night to repair the car and Giebler was back on track Sunday, quickly getting up to more than 219 in practice.
"The team didn't give me a bad car or anything," Giebler said. "I just got caught out with some wind or maybe some dirt on the track. It was an unfortunate thing but, as a racing driver, you expect those things every now and then. You can't go out there and say 'I'm never going to crash.'
"They say this place bites you, and I found out first hand that it does. But I know what to look for now. I looked at the data. I looked at the video. Hopefully, I'm smarter for the race."
After Moreno's solid run, one-time Indy starter Marty Roth had to sweat out the remaining time as the slowest qualifier at 218.922. He needn't have worried.
Kite tried hard to find enough speed to get back into the field, but never came close. He made one last qualifying attempt with less than three minutes to go in the six-hour session and, after a first lap at 214.744, slowed and drove to pit lane.
P.J. Jones, son of 1963 Indy winner Parnelli Jones, was the only other non-qualified driver on track Sunday, but never came up with enough speed to make a qualifying attempt.
Gamblers win in Indy qualifying; Moreno, Hearn, Giebler all in