Dan Wheldon remains optimistic that he can challenge for victory in the Indianapolis 500 despite qualifying back in 18th place.
The 2005 race winner was expected to be one of the main contenders again this year, especially as his Panther team also has a very strong recent record at the track. But a crash on his Pole Day qualifying run cost Wheldon momentum, and he was only able to make it onto the sixth row in yesterday's second qualifying session.
He admitted that the car was currently not as competitive as he needed it to be, but hopes Panther can turn things around.
"It's been difficult, so far," said Wheldon. "We have an imbalance in the car. Certainly, the team did a good job to get the car back together after yesterday. But we're just missing a little bit.
"By the same token, I think if we work hard, we can hopefully fix it. The team is certainly good enough to do that. It's just made for a very challenging opening few days. Obviously, with the problem that we have, having less downforce for a qualifying trim kind of accentuates that. But if you're going to win this race, you have to feel like you have a very good balance and you feel 100 per cent comfortable in the car."
When asked if he felt he could win the race at present, Wheldon replied: "Not right now, but that's what this month is all about. It's a very challenging month, and there's a lot of highs and lows.
"We're going to continue to work harder. This team is certainly good enough to figure it out. It just hasn't gone our way so far. That's not to say that it's not going to go our way, by any stretch."
Wheldon's previous worst start at Indianapolis was 16th in 2005 – the year he won the race.
His teammate Scott Sharp had already crashed on Friday, and only secured his grid position in the final minute of yesterday's qualifying session.
"I've never been more happy to be 20th," he said. "I've certainly had some great runs here, but the emotion to end the day like we did is obviously rewarding for everybody.
"With all my experience, I guess leaning on that I figured I'd come back in pretty easily, and I did pretty easily get up to speed. I pretty much thought, I didn't know obviously, we'd be a first or second row contender. I thought if maybe things really fell into place we would be. But certainly a top 10 car, no problem.
"And obviously we had a few things go wrong that led to our crash the other day. The team did an amazing recovery."
Sharp only managed to make his last-gasp qualifying run because other cars pulled out of making qualifying attempts when they realized their speeds had safely got them on the grid. Had he not managed to qualify yesterday, he would have had to fit in both final qualifying and the American Le Mans Series race at Miller Motorsports Park next weekend.
"I'm sitting there in the tech line and I'm saying, 'Wow, this isn't going to happen,'" said Sharp, "and I'm thinking: 'OK, I've got to rent a plane, I guess. I've got to go to Utah on Friday so I can figure out the (ALMS) car, fly back Friday night. I'll try to qualify this thing Saturday morning. I'll fly back Saturday night so I can race Sunday.
"This is all going through my head and finally I was just like: 'I can't be thinking about this. I got to be thinking about the car.' And all of the sudden, these two guys pulled out, and it's like 'Let's go!' and I just held it down."