Conquest Puts Tagliani In 500 Field
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Alex Tagliani is in and Bruno Junqueira is out at Indianapolis.
That is the word from Conquest Racing Monday as it announced that it has made a driver change for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
On Sunday, Junqueira had qualified his Conquest car into the field on Bump Day. Tagliani, however, was bumped by Ryan Hunter-Reay on final bump effort of the day – a run which was made just as the session-ending gun was fired.
Several hours later, Conquest announced that it was putting Tagliani in the No. 36 car which was quailfied by Junqueira.
“We had the chance to qualify two excellent drivers today,” team-owner Eric Bachelart said. “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.”
On Sunday it worked like this: When Bump Day began, it appeared that Tagliani was solidly in the field. And in practice Sunday, which was held under optimum qualifying conditions, he showed enough speed in his car to easily be one of the fastest 33 cars on the starting grid.
But late in the day, a flurry of activity in the tech line prevented Tagliani from getting back onto the track and bumping his way back into the race.
Hunter-Reay’s speed was microscopically better than that of Tagliani – who was on the bump bubble – and Hunter-Reay secured the final spot in the field.
Tagliani appeared devastated as he sat in his car in the tech line.
“We’ve been working with Alex for a long time now and have built our commercial and marketing program around him,” Bachelart said. “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.”
Junqueira said he understood the team’s actions.
“I was able to go fast right from the start despite not having a lot of practice and that was very rewarding for myself,” Junqueira said. “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.”
Tagliani, a rookie at Indy but a successful veteran in open-wheel racing, was sad/happy about the move by Conquest.
“I want to first of all say thank you to Bruno for being so understanding and to the team for taking this decision,” the Canadian driver said. “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.”
Tagliani said it was just crazy circumstance which led to the situation. He indicated the team probably should have went back out for another qualifying run immediately after circumstances put him on the bubble.
“It’s pretty much a fluke that I didn’t make the field,” he said. “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.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org