Tagliani replaces Junqueira for 500


INDIANAPOLIS — Alex Tagliani will drive in the Indianapolis 500 after all.

Conquest Racing team owner Eric Bachelart said Sunday night, hours after Tagliani was bumped from the 33-car lineup, that the Canadian driver will replace teammate Bruno Junqueira in the No. 36 car.

Junqueira, who didn’t get his ride until Saturday, qualified the second Conquest Racing car Sunday in the final round of time trials, while Tagliani, who qualified Saturday, was bumped from the field by Ryan Hunter-Reay, the final qualifier.

The native of Lachenaie, Que., was sitting in his car, next in line and hoping to requalify, when the gun went off to end time trials while Hunter-Reay was running his four-lap qualifying effort.

"We’ve been working with Alex for a long time now and have built our commercial and marketing program around him," Bachelart said in a team release. "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."

Bachelart said Tagliani was not to blame for failing to put his No. 34 into the race field.

"It wasn’t for a lack of speed or a fault of his own," he said. "Alex simply fell victim to exceptional circumstances. That’s how the magic of Indy works sometimes; it can be good or bad."

Tagliani, a longtime open-wheel racer making his first start at Indy, was relieved to be back in the race.

"I want to first of all say thank you to Bruno for being so understanding and to the team for taking this decision," Tagliani 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.

"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."

The team also released a statement from Junqueira, thanking the team for its efforts on his behalf.

"It’s a shame that Alex got bumped out of the field at the end," the Brazilian said. "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 will start the race 30th Sunday, the same spot in which Junqueira qualified.

Toronto’s Paul Tracy will start 13th.

Bachelart acknowledged at the time the team made a mistake by pulling Tagliani out of line twice in the final 19 minutes of time trials.

"Now it’s obvious we were too conservative, we should have just gone for it," Bachelart said.

Tagliani sat stupefied in the car as he watched the clock and the speeds, then quickly pulled down the visor to cover his face after Hunter-Reay crossed the yard of bricks for the final time.

Following his elimination, an emotional Tagliani huddled in solitude in the corner of his garage, crying for nearly an hour before answering questions

Meanwhile, Hunter-Reay knew he lucked out.

"That was a timing issue there," Hunter-Reay said. "I think Tagliani was pretty fast and we were lucky we went out last. I’ve never been so happy to take last place."

John Andretti also qualified for his 10th Indy start on his final attempt.

Andretti and Hunter-Reay, whose successful qualifying effort was underway as the gun went off ending the six-hour final session of time trials, both had to find more speed after being bumped out of the lineup earlier in the day.

"I’m glad the race isn’t tomorrow," said Andretti. "I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I could get in the car.

"I’m physically, mentally, just totally exhausted.

"I just can’t even believe it. I know that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and realize I’m back in the Indy 500."

The field was filled on Saturday, but poor weather conditions, including gusty wind, kept the speeds of the slowest qualifiers low enough to make them vulnerable to bumping by faster drivers on Sunday.

Speeds climbed considerably on the final day of qualifying, thanks to a cool, sunny afternoon with little wind.

The day began with 1996 race winner Buddy Lazier, 2002 pole-winner Junqueira and Indy rookie Stanton Barrett the only drivers with a chance to bump their way into the field.

In the end, only Junqueira made it, turning a solid four-lap average of 221.115 m.p.h. despite not running a lap in his car until Sunday morning.

That bumped Andretti’s Saturday speed of 219.442 out of the field.

The day began with five drivers qualified under 220 and most of the qualifying efforts Sunday came from those drivers, trying to go faster and get themselves out of danger of being bumped.

Tomas Scheckter (221.496), rookie Mike Conway (221.417), E.J. Viso (221.164), Milka Duno (221.106) and rookie Nelson Philippe (220.754) each withdrew an earlier qualifying speed and improved upon it.

Andretti, whose car was entered here by NASCAR icon Richard Petty and fielded by Dreyer & Reinbold, tried to bump his way back in with about two hours to go, but waved off the effort after one lap at 218.

He went back out with 20 minutes left in the session and managed four laps at 220.282, but it wasn’t enough.

Lazier and Barrett, who had been working hard throughout the afternoon to find more speed in practice, then made their final qualifying tries and both came off the track after one slow lap under the green flag, knowing they weren’t going to get it done.

By that time, Andretti’s team had made some quick adjustments on his Petty blue and red No. 43 and he was ready to make one last try.

This time, he put up four straight laps over 221 m.p.h. for an average of 221.316 that placed him 28th in the field and bumped out the 220.413 that Hunter-Reay had posted earlier in the day.

"Today was a good day overall," Andretti said. "The big picture was good. I didn’t get nervous about it. I didn’t lose my cool. I just had enough faith in the people around me.

"But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be for an old guy like me. I can’t imagine how embarrassed I would have been if Richard Petty had called and said, `Where are you starting?’ and I had to say, `I’m not.’ "

As Andretti drove slowly back to the pits, Hunter-Reay was ready to try again. He drove onto the track with just two minutes until the gun and knowing he had to beat Tagliani’s 220.553 from Saturday or go home.

"It wasn’t much fun," Hunter-Reay said after barely making it with four laps over 220 and a 220.597 average — just 0.044 seconds quicker than Tagliani.

"That was the hairiest day I’ve ever had in racing," said Hunter-Reay.

The field, from pole-winner Helio Castroneves to Hunter-Reay, was separated in time by a record 3.0967 seconds. The previous record was 3.2422 seconds in 2001.

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