Tagliani in, Junqueira out of Indy 500
Conquest Racing is withdrawing Bruno Junqueira from the No. 36 car in the 93rd running of the Indy 500, and replacing him with its prime driver, Alex Tagliani. The Canadian, who had qualified 26th on Saturday, was bumped out of the grid after the team adopted a conservative approach to Bump Day, and had Tagliani initially running race setups.
However, when it became clear that drivers were bumping their way in and re-qualifying due to the vastly improved track conditions on Sunday, Conquest hurriedly reverted the No. 34 car back to qualifying spec, but continually pulled it out of the qualifying line. This was so that Tagliani might start his race from 26th rather than withdraw that time and only get back in as 33rd on the grid.
But a late brave run from Vision Racing's Ryan Hunter-Reay got the American - last year's Indy 500 Rookie of the Year - into the field with his ill-handling car by a scant 0.05sec, bumping Tagliani out. The Conquest team did not have time to send its Canadian star back out before the gun fired halting all qualifying.
Conquest's second driver, Junqueira, who was brought in at the last minute, had made the field, because Sunday saw his first qualifying effort of any sort. Unemployed thus far this season, the 2002 Indy polesitter's first track time at The Brickyard this year was in Sunday morning's free practice session and his performance today was widely acknowledeged as a great achievement.
But given Tagliani's history with the team and his role as primary driver, and it being a series of miscues that saw him bumped out, he will step into the No.36 car to replace his long-time Indy car rival and start his first ever Indy 500.
Explaining the decision, Conquest Racing's team owner Eric Bachelart stated: “We had the chance to qualify two excellent drivers today. Unfortunately we didn’t have the same fate for both entries despite excellent work from everyone on the team. Bruno has once again shown the world how talented a driver he is and we truly appreciate the work he has done for us in this short amount of time and thank him for his excellent work.
"Alex didn’t make the show and it wasn’t for a lack of speed or a fault of his own. He simply fell victim to exceptional circumstances. That’s how the magic of Indy works sometimes; it can be good or bad. We’ve been working with Alex for a long time now and have built our commercial and marketing program around him. He has been our primary driver since the start of the season and we felt that it was in the best interest of the team and our partners to have him in the car for the Indy 500 as we continue to build our future together.”
Tagliani added: "“I want to first of all say thank you to Bruno for being so understanding and to the team for taking this decision. We have been building this long-term relationship for a while now and I’m more than thrilled to be able to pursue that by taking part in my first Indy 500. Obviously it would have been much sweeter if we would have had both cars in the show because Bruno and I had fast and identical cars.
"It’s pretty much a fluke that I didn’t make the field. We just got caught out. You never want to second-guess yourself but if we had to redo things we probably would do it differently, but now that is in the past. At the end of the day, I’m just really happy right now to be realizing my dream of running in the Indy 500. The team has worked so hard all month and they deserve to be here.”
A stoical Junqueira stated: "I was able to go fast right from the start despite not having a lot of practice and that was very rewarding for myself. I really enjoyed working with Conquest Racing, they gave me a really good car and hopefully I can work with them again the future.
"It’s a shame that Alex got bumped out of the field at the end. I knew coming into this that Alex is Conquest’s primary driver and that if something happened to the first car that I would likely give him my place and I completely understand it.”