Alex Tagliani will
race in next weekend's Indianapolis 500 despite failing to qualify for the race on Bump Day, after his Conquest Racing team opted to place the Canadian in temporary team-mate Bruno Junqueira's car.
Team owner Eric Bachelart announced the move late on Sunday night, with Tagliani - who found himself sat in the qualifying line when the gun sounded to end proceedings on Bump Day - set to replace Junqueira, who had earlier ensured that the team's #36 entry would make the race, despite having had hardly any track time all month.
“We had the chance to qualify two excellent drivers today but, unfortunately, we didn't have the same fate for both entries despite excellent work from everyone on the team," Bachelart explained, "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. We thank him for his excellent work.
"Alex didn't make the show, but 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 programme around him. He has been our primary driver since the start of the season and we felt that it was in the best interests 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, while naturally disappointed at seeing his hard work in chasing a ride for the blue riband event come to nought, insisted that he was always aware of the possibility that he would have to defer to Tagliani.
“It's a shame that Alex got bumped out of the field," he noted, "I knew, coming into this, that he is Conquest's primary driver and that, if something happened to the first car, that I would likely give him my place. I completely understand it.
"I want to thank the team and All Sport/Big Red for giving me the opportunity to qualify their car - 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, and hopefully I can work with them again the future."
Tagliani admitted after failing to make the 33-car field that he had been frustrated not to get his own car into the show, particularly as it had easily shown the sort of pace to qualifying, and thanked Junqueira for his selfless act.
“I want to say 'thank you' to Bruno for being so understanding - and to the team for taking this decision," he insisted, "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 - although, 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. The team has worked so hard all month and they deserve to be here.”