Junky gets junked

Posted by Iannucci | 5/17/2009 | 14 comments »
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Shortly after the gun sounded to end qualification attempts on Bump Day, Ryan Hunter-Reay squeezed enough out of the month-long nemesis that was his #21 car to best Alex Tagliani by a couple bazillionths of a mile-per-hour. 220.597 mph was his average. In the Vision Racing pits there was much rejoicing, while down pit road Tagliani sat in his car - which was next in line for qualifications - weeping silently to himself in the knowledge that like Stanton Barrett and Buddy Lazier he would not be participating in the festivities on May 24th.

The sad truth is Tags should have been in the final list of qualifiers, because earlier in the day as he was turning practice laps well in excess of 221 mph - a speed that three qualified drivers did not achieve. But while throughout the day Mike Conway, Tomas Scheckter, and others were withdrawing qualified times and improving them with help from the better weather conditions, Conquest Racing decided to sit on Tagliani's average speed of 220.553 mph from Saturday.

Ooh, I'm sorry. That's not the correct answer. Thank you for playing, though.

At the time it appeared the Conquest team could take some solace in the fact that Bruno Junqueira, who only this weekend reached a deal to drive their second entry and qualified it safely after turning but a dozen practice laps. They could rally around a proven driver like Junky, who back in '02 (a race getting WAY too much discussion these days) managed to claim the pole position for this very race.

Except, that's not what Conquest Racing is doing. From the press release:

Conquest Racing announced late Sunday night that they will be replacing Bruno Junqueira aboard the #36 Conquest entry with the team's primary driver Alex Tagliani for this year's Indianapolis 500.

Yes, that's right - Conquest is pulling a switcheroo, swapping out the driver who did get in for the driver who didn't. Thanks for the memories, Bruno, and we have some lovely parting gifts for you.

According to the same press release, Bruno is taking it well, saying "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." I don't know if that's him or a poor, beleaguered PR person talking there, but either way this is a mess. Conquest has very tangible reasons like sponsorship concerns for punting Junqueira, as owner Eric Bachelart explained.

"(Alex) 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."

Anyhow, despite Bruno's gracious words savvy fans who watched qualifications know he qualified and Tagliani didn't, and that Tagliani's first ever trip into the Field of 33 will not represent an accomplishment for him as much as an injustice towards another driver who impressively turned a dozen laps and put that car in the show. Of course that's an oversimplification as Tagliani worked with team members all month to try to get the car up to speed, but go tell that to Bruno right now.

UPDATE: More to the story is added by From John Oreovicz at ESPN.com:

Certainly, Junqueira deserves to be in the field as well after what may go down as one of the most remarkable qualifying performances in the long history of the Indianapolis 500.

Forty-two hours before he successfully qualified, Junqueira's entry was little more than a bare tub. Confirmation of his deal came at about 7 p.m. Friday, leading to an all-nighter for a combination of a few Conquest mechanics and a couple helpers recruited from the dormant Roth Racing team.
And Robin Miller of SPEED:
"I'm not happy with the situation and obviously it's very upsetting but I think Eric must have had some big money reasons to do it," said Junqueira late Sunday evening.

"I put my butt on the line today, did a good job and was very happy because Alex and I were both in the race. Now I don't feel very happy."
And Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun:
Fool No. 1 on the property was owner Eric Bachelart's team, which pulled the Canadian driver out of the line twice in the final 19 minutes of time trials to make it into the 33-car field.

He didn't even get on the track. Which is to say "Rexall Edmonton Indy" didn't even get one trip around the track in the final hour of the Bump Day telecast.

14 comments

  1. Mike // May 17, 2009 10:47 PM  

    Well said, Jeff. I just made my speil on Meesh's blog...the harsh realities of Indy, bump day, the current state of the series with ridebuyers...

    I'm more than 'a little bummed' for Bruno. The guy did a fantastic job...and saved Conquest's ass in the process. Eric can't feel very good about this deal tonight, but with one car in, I'm sure he's very grateful...and Alex has to be, too. Bruno is 'owed one' in a big way...

  2. pressdog // May 18, 2009 5:21 AM  

    I wonder how you say "corn-holed" in Portuguese. Someone should replace Bachelart. GENIUS move there, Bach. You're a rock star. I know it's business, blah, blah, blah, but on behalf of Bruno I'm scooting my chair back and calling "BULLSHIT" (albeit in English).

  3. redd carr // May 18, 2009 5:51 AM  

    as far as I could tell from Bachelart's post-qualifications interview, the only person to blame for allowing Tags to requalify was Bachelart. if they hadn't pulled him out of line--twice--they'd have both made the race.

  4. redd // May 18, 2009 5:53 AM  

    sorry. that should have read "for NOT allowing Tags to requalify..."

    i guess that's what that preview button is for, huh?

  5. Allen // May 18, 2009 6:33 AM  

    I agree Bruno is getting screwed here, but honestly I couldn;t tell you who got screwed more between Bruno now, and Tags before.

    The moment they saw DCR rolling Scheckter's car to the line, Conquest should have had Tags right behind him. They were seperated by .2 seconds; and to that point every position behind them was a bump day time, so I'm still not sure where the "we wanted to keep 26" logic works out that Eric said on TV.

    That said; let us not forget that one of the most famous finishes in Indy 500 history (1992) came as a result of Walker Racing replacing Mike Groff with their primary driver Scott Goodyear, because Goodyear got bumped.

  6. Tabernerus // May 18, 2009 6:49 AM  

    Man, who knew McKenzie Financial was running the Edmonton Indy now. :-)

    We can gripe about it all we want. If Tag goes out and pulls a Goodyear, all will be forgotten and forgiven.

  7. mmack // May 18, 2009 7:12 AM  

    Here's the money quote right here:

    "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."If the deal between Bruno and Conquest Racing was truly structured the same way as Mike Groff's deal in 1992 ("Mike, you're in the field as long as Scott is in the field."), it stinks, but Bruno rolled the bones. Or really, in this case, Bruno took a hit because the team didn't roll the bones for Alex Tagliani.

    On the other hand, if Bruno was told "Just get the car in the field" without being told ". . . Oh, and if Alex doesn't make the race and you do, we'll swap drivers", then outrage towards Conquest Racing is truly justified. If that's the case, if I'm Alex Tagliani, I'm asking to be paid in cash, and have the money counted out right in front of me. Just a little matter of trust, you know.

    While there is a lot of justified anger towards Conquest Racing not pulling Alex and having him requalify, up until the last turn of the last lap of O-Ryan the Hunter's banzai run, it was looking like the team had rolled a solid seven to keep both cars in the field. Ryan "I won't lose it on camera, I won't lose it on camera, OH GOD WHY WON'T THIS D@MNED CAR GO FASTER ?!?!?!?!?" Hunter-Reay was obviously frustrated and perhaps spooked, and didn't seem to have the speed necessary to bump back in.

    Ya rolls da bones and youse takes yer chances, like da man says.

    That said, I am upset Bruno got shown the door. When I heard on Versus they had a grand total of fifteen laps on the car when they put him in line, and he put up a time of 221 and change, after his run I told mrs. mmack "Now there's a real race car driver. Turn a few laps, get the speed, put it in line, make the show. Easy as pie!"

  8. John in Speedway // May 18, 2009 7:56 AM  

    I have to agree with one part of IHJ's quote: "It's the 33 best drivers and teams under the conditions of what we had." I am sorry, but Bruno, Buddy, and Stanton are all better drivers than Milk & Donuts. I was very angry when I saw she hit 221. I knew at that point that she would probably make the field, and someone was going to get screwed.

  9. MDC // May 18, 2009 12:58 PM  

    Mike says, "I'm more than 'a little bummed' for Bruno. The guy did a fantastic job...and saved Conquest's ass in the process."

    Actually (and oddly), no. If Bruno had tooled around all day at 218, Tags is in the field. John A., RHR and Bachelart all had something to do with Tags getting bumped too, but the fact that if Junky doesn't such a good job, Tags doesn't get bumped.

  10. SS Minnow // May 18, 2009 1:21 PM  

    Really sucks for Bruno. Here's a guy that's raced for nothing and was excited to have some cash come his way. Not sure where I read the quote after qualifying, but he mentioned his wife is expecting a child in July and he was really looking forward to the income. Add this event to Indy lore.

    Also, did anyone continue to watch VS. to the end of their coverage? Had not heard one word from Stanton Barrett before his interview, but I must say I now feel compelled to root for this guy. You could feel the disappointment through the TV but I was impressed with his demeanor. Very well spoken.

  11. Anonymous // May 18, 2009 1:26 PM  

    Rode hard and thrown away wet i'd say. What a jerk-owned team. With decisions like this, no wonder they're a backmarker team.

  12. Mike // May 18, 2009 9:40 PM  

    To MDC, ya, that is a long-way-around fact you present...but not exactly where I (or most others) am willing to go in terms of logic. Eric saw a means to have two cars in the field...and just played it wrong in letting Tag sits idly in the pits believing that his number was safe. I'm hoping there's no way in hell he was thinking of Bruno's run as insurance for at least one Conquest car to remain in the field at the end of the day, knowing it would be Tag's car to run no matter what happened. If that was his plan, and that's why he never sent Tag out again, then he's permanently on my shitlist.

  13. Mike // May 18, 2009 9:42 PM  

    ...and I know just how much that news (him being on my shitlist) will devastate him! LOL.

  14. leilani munter // May 23, 2009 8:00 PM  

    Oh, I'm sorry. That is not the correct answer. Thank you for playing, though.Ha! Jeff, you are funny! :)

    It must be awful for Bruno, I hope he gets another chance next year. Come to think of it, I hope I get another chance too, at the Freedom 100! :)