INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Sneva drove the fastest first-day practice laps in Indianapolis 500 history Saturday, overcoming two early engine failures to reach a top speed of 215.646 mph.
Sneva, the 1983 Indy winner, broke the first-day mark of 213.675 mph set last year by Arie Luyendyk. His Buick-powered 1989 Penske chassis was the car Emerson Fittipaldi drove to victory last year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
'It's a good start,' Sneva said. 'It's moving around a little bit at that speed but we're pleased. I don't know how much we'll be able to get. It's going to take 225 mph to sit in the front row and that's what we're going for.'
Sneva's car was towed back to pit row twice after stalling on the track because an alternator cable was too short.
'We had a slow start,' Sneva said. 'We call the car 'Elvis' and it must have had too many doughnuts over the winter.'
Mechanics solved the problem and Sneva set the speed mark just before the end of practice, defying gusting winds and new rules designed to slow cars.
'The speeds will be back to what they were last year,' Sneva said. 'You will still run around flat out. We got about half of what we lost back. The problem is, the 1990 cars got all of their (speed) back.'
Tony Bettenhausen was second-fastest of the 19 cars on the track at 214.158 mph in his 1989 Lola-Buick. Last year's runnerup, Al Unser Jr., was third-best at 213.619 mph in only 30 minutes of practice time in his 1990 Lola-Chevrolet.
A new timing system made its speedway debut, allowing accurate straightaway speed readings for the first time. Jim Crawford's 1989 Lola-Buick was fastest there at 225.455 mph.
Fittipaldi, three-time winner Rick Mears and 1985 winner Danny Sullivan plan to begin Indy practice Sunday. Fittipaldi and Sullivan drove Saturday at Talledega, Ala., in an International Race of Champions event. Unser finished second to Dale Earnhardt in the afternoon IROC run, then flew to Indianapolis for practice along with his teammate, 1986 winner Bobby Rahal.
Practice opened at 1:04 p.m. with Tero Palmroth speeding onto the track without a challenge. The Finnish driver continued the first-out tradition started by car owner Dick Simon.
'It's tradition and it's a goal we set every year,' Simon said. 'We want to concentrate on being first all month.'
Palmroth finds the thrill of entering the first turn as exciting as he did in 1988, when he made his Indy-car debut at the speedway. He finished 19th as a rookie and 16th last year.
'I'm always happy to be back,' Palmroth said. 'This place has a special atmosphere. It was nice to get out first. It is a little windy. There's a little push. The car is understeering but we can work on that.'
Kevin Cogan, Indy runner-up in 1986, will drive a Buick-powered 1989 Penske chassis for Vince Granatelli, was named Saturday to join 1983 Indy winner Tom Sneva and Belgium's Didier Theys in a three-car effort. Cogan will begin Indy practice Monday after racing Sunday in Kansas.
Steve Barclay, the rookie who crashed in last week's orientation session, was reported in good condition at Methodist Hospital. Barclay is expected to be released next week. He suffered a concussion, broken collarbone, broken ribs and a broken right arm in the crash.
Bernie Myers, crew chief for rookie Dean Hall, said his team will receive a 1990 Lola on Monday. But Hall will spend next week working in his 1988 Lola-Cosworth, the car he used Saturday to pass the veteran observation portion of his rookie test. Formula One veteran Eddie Cheever also completed his rookie test.
'As soon as Dean is comfortable, we'll switch,' Myers said. 'If both car and driver are ready by the second weekend and we still haven't qualified, we will go with the new combination.'
An entry for Kenji Momota has been withdrawn, ending his bid this year to be the first Japanese driver in the Indy 500.