IndyCar » 24 May 2011
Andretti buys Junqueira's Indy 500 spot
The deal appears to leave Mike Conway out in the cold, with the initial reports stating that Andretti Autosport was only seeking to buy up one place from other teams on the grid. Subsequent rumours suggested that the team were also desperately seeking to purchase a second grid slot for Conway as well, as he is ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay in the IndyCar championship points after his race win at Long Beach in April, but this appeared to be merely rumour and speculation.
Among the candidates who could possibly be called upon to fall upon their sword and give up their race seat is Dale Coyne Racing's Alex Lloyd, whose stunning final attempt in the #26 was the spark that ignited the Bump Day drama by dumping out Marco Andretti to start with.
Meanwhile, the Andretti Autosport team have started to react to the seriously bad performance of the team as a whole over the Indy 500 practice and qualifying week. On Bump Day, Andretti had said that it had been "Probably my worst day as an owner," adding ruefully: "Had a few worse as a driver.
"I'm not very happy about [what happened]," Andretti had said earlier in the day. "I was given an indication it was going to be a lot different [from 2010 when Tony Kanaan was nearly bumped out of the race] and actually it was worse ... It's especially bad that we got out-qualified by a few cars that aren't as good as ours."
Team competition director Tom Anderson has been the first head to roll as he took the fall for Conway's #27 being dismal from the get-go. Anderson had been in charge of the team's competition department for the past two Indy 500 campaigns. He had been managing director of Ganassi Racing's CART operations in the 90s when they won four consecutive titles, and moved too become managing director of Fernandez Racing through the 2000s.
With all five of the drivers who failed to make the grid currently regular IndyCar season drivers with full-year deals and sponsorship arrangements, the news about Andretti's grid spot shopping has led to fevered speculation about a "domino effect" to other teams - such as Pippa Mann being ousted from her Conquest Racing #36 for the team's full-season driver Sebastian Saavedra, as happened with Junqueira/Tagliani two years ago.
Worryingly, Mann was tweeting that her mobile phone was dead - "Serious dead I-phone-itis!!!" - leading to immediate conspiracy theories that she was making sure no one could reach her with any bad news.
However, Conquest owner Eric Bachelart was quoted as saying on Monday that he had no plans to substitute out Mann: "I hope I never have to do that again," he said. "I really like her. She's done a great job, she's driven under control and been calm under pressure."
It's not clear just how happy the IndyCar sanctioning body will be if the qualification process of Pole Day and Bump Day is undermined by back room deals the day after the grid is meant to be finalised - or what powers they may have to deny driver swaps under the current regulations, if it came to that.
IndyCar may also have safety concerns if drivers who are judged to be too slow and too far off the pace, such as Conway, Saavedra and Dale Coyne's James Jakes, were to get grid spots without "proving" that they were up to the task.
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