This time last year, Bruno Junqueira gave up his starting place on the Indy 500 grid so that Alex Tagliani could race, and he went on to finish as 'Rookie of the Year'. In 2010, Junqueira is Tagliani's one-off team-mate for Indy, and starts 25th after a late deal with Tag's main sponsor Bowers & Wilkins came through.
Junqueira was fourth fastest on the time sheets on Friday's Carb Day, and before the drivers' briefing, he looks ahead to Sunday's big race.
Q. This time 12 months ago must have been so tough to give up your ride to Alex?
Bruno Junqueira: Because everything was so last minute, it was a whole last-day thing, it wasn't as hard as giving up a drive when you've practiced for the whole month. At the end of the day, it was difficult, but I understood why it happened. I've been here in really good conditions in the past, and been competitive, so I'm not going to die because I missed one race! And it's turned out that I'm here in better circumstances this year, so it's paid off.
Q. So this is like payback time?
BJ: Yes, it's really nice. I'm having a really good time with the FAZZT guys this year. They have given me a good car.
Q. You were limited with track time, but when you finally hit the track you've been really quick?
BJ: Yeah, better than expected to be honest. I sat in the car for the first time, did three timed laps, and it was straight into qualifying. We were quickest on Bump Day, and then we were P4 on Carb Day, so it shows we have a competitive car. I'm a little bit sad that I'm starting 25th, because it will make my life a little bit difficult, especially in the hot temperatures. I think we can put ourselves in a good position by the end of the race, but I've got to be patient and gain the places slowly. I think we can be really strong by the end.
Q. If you'd started this program from the start of the month of May, where do you think you could have potentially qualified?
BJ: I think on the front row. I think the 227.9mph of Helio [Castroneves] was too maybe quick for us -- but I'm brave too! I would have had a go. I definitely think front two rows. But starting where I do means I have got no pressure, but I have a lot of work to do to get forward.
Q. How good is the car in traffic?
BJ: It's okay. We will do a change for the race which Tag likes, and he says is good in traffic. I hope so! Then the car will be a even better, but it's a fast car. I think if I can get past the traffic I can run with the Ganassis and Penskes.
Q. This team is brand-new, yet it seems to have some true chemistry about it?
BJ: That's the secret. There's a good vibe in this team. It's a new team, but it's full of experienced people. Nowadays, everyone thinks they hype is to get young drivers, young engineers -- but this team is the opposite. You have very experienced driver, who knows what he wants and how to put a team together. Experience matters. And that's how you get good results. The people in the team see this is a good opportunity to show how good they are collectively. They are very hungry to do well.
Q. This week has been a good reminder for everyone in the IndyCar paddock that you've still got what it takes to run at the front?
BJ: Yeah, it's good for me, I know that, but I'm just here to have fun driving. When I do that, I know I can do well. And when I have a good car like this one, then I can finish really well. On Carb Day, I got out of the car after a few laps and they told me, 'Bruno, you finished fourth.' That felt good. It shows I can still run with the big guys. I used to, and I used to beat them too. I should be at the same level, but I never had the right chances since my accident [at Indy in 2005 when he broke and dislocated his spine].
Q. You know Indy can seriously hurt when you crash, what's it like coming back knowing that?
BJ: It's difficult. I think the car is improved from the safety aspect, and there are SAFER walls now, but I hope they can do an ever safer car in the future, in 2012. It's a fact that drivers can still break their backs in these cars, and Dr [Terry] Trammell says that when he sees a crash, he knows exactly what is broken already. My one was really bad because I not only broke my back, it was dislocated too. I had to have big surgery, but now the guys wear a back brace for one or two months and they are good again. My one was a little bit bigger than normal. I hope everyone is safe for the next two years, and then in 2012 they can come up with something that is really safe.
Q. Would you like to return full time to IndyCars?
BJ: Yes. I'm an open-wheel racer, and I think as long as I can drive fast and be competitive then I can be able to race here. I'm very fit, I work hard, but I didn't race so much last year, and it's given me back that hunger again. I want to come back and race. I've had a year off, man, I'm ready to do it again! I'm like a young kid.