In a twist of irony, Conquest Racing's semi-regular driver Alex Tagliani was the biggest name to miss the cut for this year's Indianapolis 500 on a day of drama that saw one-off team-mate Bruno Junqueira make it into the 33-car field.

Taking advantage of conditions that showed a marked improvement over Saturday's third day of qualifying, several drivers withdrew their previous times to avoid being 'on the bubble'. Tomas Scheckter, Mike Conway, EJ Viso, Nelson Philippe and Milka Duno all pulled the gamble successfully, managing to post faster, safer, times, while Junqueira had little trouble in making the cut on his first run of the month.

"The car is very good, so I said 'let's take a little downforce out' and the car was better," the Brazilian reported, "I'm very excited. It's one of the most exciting moments of my life and my career - I think I broke a record for least laps in practice to put a car in the field."

John Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, drove their way into the 500 with last-gasp Bump Day attempts that saw Tagliani, Stanton Barrett and race stalwart Buddy Lazier forced to sit out the remainder of the month.

Andretti, who began the day in the field, got bumped midway through by Junqueira, who was making his first qualifying attempt with Conquest Racing, then struggled to find the required speed on two later qualifying attempts.

With just 15 minutes of the session remaining, Andretti, Barrett and Lazier were all outside the field, while Hunter-Reay had been pushed back onto the bubble again.

Andretti was the first to try to snatch Hunter-Reay's grid spot, but his four-lap average was too slow to bump the Vision Racing car from the field. Barrett and Lazier then made last-ditch efforts to qualify, but both waved off their runs after poor first laps.

The quick decision to abandon their attempts allowed Andretti to go back out again with eight minutes remaining in the day and, on his final attempt, the veteran posted a time good enough to guarantee a tenth appearance at Indianapolis, lapping at an average speed of 221.316mph to bump Hunter-Reay. and maintaining his 100 per cent record of qualifying through the month of May.

Hunter-Reay, however, was also able to rebound, and his 220.597mph effort was enough to edge Tagliani by a few hundredths of a second.

"I was ready to go the whole time," RH-R insisted, "It was a timing issue because I think Tagliani was pretty quick there. It was lucky we went out last. We're running downforce as low as you wouldn't believe - it was so trimmed out. That was the hairiest day I've ever had, and I've never been so happy to be last place."

That effort put Tagliani - the focus of Conquest's early month efforts - alongside Barrett and former race winner Lazier among the non-qualifiers. The Canadian pulled out of the qualifying line three times between 1741hrs and 1751hrs before being left as next in line when the gun fired to signal the end of qualifying - and his hopes - at 1800hrs.

"The car was plenty fast to protect our position, but I don't know the whole running around, get in line, get out of line," a despondent Tagliani sighed, "It's just at the end when it happened. We got bumped, and there was no time.

"Right now, I'm wondering why we didn't go out and just run to protect our position time when we knew we could go out and just do the lap we needed to do - and even probably get the fastest lap of the day. You don't do these things when you're not sure you can re-do your lap but, when we knew we could do a faster lap than we did yesterday, I'm wondering.

"It's done now, but it's kind of difficult to accept that fact that you need to go home with a car that is capable to be in the field. It's hard to comprehend. I just want to turn the page and just get back in the car at Milwaukee.

"The worst thing is we didn't go out to protect ourselves, [even though] we kept putting it in line. When you go home and you're slow, there's nothing you can do, but, when you go home under these conditions..."

Hunter-Reay wins the $50,000 Firestone Indy 500 Final Qualifier Award as the last driver to make the field on Bump Day. He will start 33rd.

Scheckter won the $10,000 Red Gold Red Zone Award for turning the fastest single qualifying lap on Bump Day, the opening lap of his qualifying attempt being clocked at 221.845mph. He will start 26th.

Lazier's failure to qualify ended a streak that had made him the only driver to start every 500 under the IndyCar banner between 1996 and 2008, 16 appearances in all.



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