A Rare Gesture Of Loyalty

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With the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg being extended to this past Monday due to excessive rain combined with a very busy week at work, I ran no article this past Wednesday. I regret it because today’s post is now basically old news, but it was so noteworthy that I still feel compelled to comment on it.

It was announced on Tuesday that Brazilian driver, Bruno Junqueira, was signed to drive a second car at Fazzt Racing for the 2010 Indianapolis 500. On the surface, that doesn’t sound that dramatic until you think back to the events on Bump Day for last year’s Indy 500. If you’ll recall, Alex Tagliani was the primary driver for Conquest Racing and a rookie at Indy, but they had signed Bruno Junqueira to drive a second car at Indy. Bruno qualified the car on very little practice on the morning of the final day of qualifying, and put it safely into the field on the outside of row 10.

Tagliani’s speed however, didn’t hold up as car owner Eric Bachelart pretty well bungled his chances to keep Tagliani in the field of thirty-three. He mistakenly thought Tagliani’s time was good enough and Tagliani was left to helplessly watch from the cockpit as Ryan Hunter-Reay bumped him out of the field as the countdown to six o’clock ticked away.

That evening, Bachelart announced that Junqueira would be thanklessly pulled from his qualified car and the ride would be given over to Tagliani and the car was moved to the back of the grid. I never blamed Tagliani for the switch, as it wasn’t his fault that the team blew their chance to secure their position in the lineup. I felt at the time and still feel that Bachelart had mishandled the entire thing.

Tagliani made the most of the uncomfortable situation by giving the car a great run by moving up all day from last place to an eleventh place finish and was awarded Rookie of the Year. Bruno stepped out of the cockpit in a complete show of class. He kept his mouth shut and played the good teammate, although you knew his heart had to be breaking.

Well, credit Alex Tagliani with a complete show of class as well. Tags is now co-owner of Fazzt Racing and has rewarded his teammate from last year with what appears to be a strong ride for this year’s 500. In return for his loyalty, Tagliani and Fazzt racing are getting whom I consider to be one of the most underrated drivers in Bruno Junqueira.

Bruno is one of the more talented drivers out there and I’ve never hidden the fact that he is one of my favorites. He was tabbed by Chip Ganassi as one of two drivers to replace the departed Jimmy Vasser and Juan Montoya, following the 2000 CART season. He finished fifth in his first Indianapolis 500 in 2001 and was the Indy pole-sitter the following year. After winning the pole at Indy in 2002, he also finished second in the CART standings while still driving for Ganassi.

Bruno moved to Newman/Haas in 2003. He finished second in the points for 2003 and 2004, making it three years in a row that he was the runner-up for the championship. Newman/Haas ran Junqueira in a single-car effort in 2004 at Indianapolis, where his pit strategy and the early finish due to rain may have cost him the win. Instead, he settled for fifth. For 2005, Newman/Haas returned to Indy with Bruno and his teammate Sebastian Bourdais. There, Junqueira broke his back in a late race crash and missed the remainder of the Champ Car season. He returned to Newman/Haas in 2006 but had a sub-par season and was released at season’s end. His last full-time ride was with Dale Coyne in Champ Car in 2007 and then the unified IndyCar Series in 2008.

He brings no money to the table and sits on the sidelines while drivers with far less talent but sponsorship dollars get decent rides. He is a good guy and an excellent driver. Putting that second Conquest machine on the grid last year with so little practice shows what he can do with inferior equipment. His record with Ganassi and Newman/Haas shows his abilities with good equipment. The question is…which side of the spectrum does Fazzt Racing fall under?

I will admit to not being a fan of Alex Tagliani when he first came on the CART scene in 2000. In the early part of his career, I knew him mainly as the driver who was signed to replace Greg Moore at Forsythe Racing and also as the driver who hit Alex Zanardi in the horrific accident in Germany that severed Zanardi’s legs. As unfair as that characterization was – that was how I knew him.

Tagliani was replaced at Forsythe at the end of the 2002 season when Paul Tracy was available after Team Green morphed into Andretti-Green Racing and moved to the IRL. He moved over to Paul Gentilozzi’s Rocketsports Team where he claimed his only victory – a win at Road America in 2004.

For 2005, Tagliani was on the move again to Team Australia, a curious move for a Canadian. Team Australia was the remnants of Derrick Walker’s team and Tagliani drove to solid runs in the two years he was there – finishing seventh in 2005 and eighth in 2006.

The last year for Champ Car saw Tagliani driving for RSPORTS, which was the product of a merger between RuSPORT and Rocketsports. Tagliani finished tenth in points with his best run being a fourth place finish in the 2007 season opener on the streets of Las Vegas.

After the 2002 season, my interest in CART/Champ Car had really started to wane. There were but a few names left from the days that I preferred CART to the IRL and Tagliani was one of them. I knew he was a decent driver but as mentioned earlier, he had never really won me over as a fan.

My eyes were opened last year with Tagliani’s strong run at Indy. Knowing that he was in a third rate seat, I was amazed he could do anything with the Conquest car in the handful of races he ran. Tagliani and Bachelart parted ways in mid-season after the two Canadian races at the end of July.

Within a month, it was announced that Tagliani, Jim Freudenberg, André Azzi and actor Jason Priestly had bought the equipment of Roth Racing from fellow Canadian Marty Roth and would race Tagliani full-time in 2010 under the banner of Fazzt Racing.

In all honesty, I expected very little from this team in 2010. But their strong qualifying effort in Brazil combined with their sixth place finish at St. Petersburg has shown me I was dead wrong. I had already come to respect Alex Tagliani as a driver over the past year. Now that he is a co-owner of a team that has had early success, that respect is growing. In a time when loyalty is almost non-existent, this show of loyalty to Bruno Junqueira one year after the fact – has now made me a new fan of Alex Tagliani and the Fazzt Racing Team.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “A Rare Gesture Of Loyalty”

  1. Mike Silver Says:

    The class shown by Tags and Sarah this year is amazing. I hope all team owners can follow their example at some point this year.

  2. Ryan Johnson Says:

    As always, another great piece. I think Tagliani’s move was extremely classy, and that is another reason why I enjoy having him in the series. However, I do want to correct one mistake (I usually don’t care) that jumped out at me. In 2005, Bruno and AJ IV had that crash on lap 76. You mentioned it was late in the race, and I just wanted to bring that to your attention. That was such a scary incident. Have a great day and God bless!

  3. I will get killed for this (as Bruno Junqueira has been ID’d as a favorite of George’s…) but color me unimpressed with this news.

    All the whiners that slammed TAGS last year suddenly LOVE him again (for “righting” something that didn’t need to be addressed IMO). No one hammers Scott Goodyear for booting Mike Groff out of a ride that went on to finish 2nd to Al Unser Jr :idea: Bruno was a BACK-UP driver & knew the Conquest “pecking order”. Its been going on since they opened the Speedway.

    Also, Bruno is like Vitor Meira for a select group of ICS fans…. the underdog that is just SO-OOO close to superstar status :roll: Junqueria had TOP rides with Ganassi & Newman Haas, yet owned the 2nd or 3rd platform of the podium in a majority of races & championship standings :idea:

    One would think Bruno had signed an Eddie Irvine / Ferrari Style / Schumi Back-up CONTRACT @ Newman Haas :!: At Ganassi, lets not forget who challenged him… Memo Gidley. Memo is a very cool guy, but his OW career resume is nothing compared to Junqueria’s.

    So once again the ROAD to INDY ladder system shows that its a JOKE as FAZZT pick’s the mid 30 something to pilot their ride @ Indy :( :( :( Yes, Bruno has experience… but a mid 30′s Brazilian won’t do ANYTHING for the IZOD Indycar Series. Paul Tracy can tell you how many 40 year olds have rides… why not start grooming a young driver that will have a decade or more to give the AOW :?: :?: :?:

    • So many things to address…

      1) I think most of the slamming last year was directed at Eric Bachelart. I don’t think Tags had much to do with the decision to kick Bruno out. Not that he probably protested, but he was not the car owner, hence, not his ultimate decision. And, I think that some people did hammer Derrick Walker back in 1992, but I can’t really remember because A) it was 18 years ago and B) there was no internet on which to complain.

      2) Dude, come on. Yeah, I get it, Bruno (in your eyes) is a “never was” because he never sealed the deal on a CART championship. Most of us remember that he finished 2nd in the championship three straight times. I fail to see where the shame is there. He’s clearly a very good driver, even if he failed to attain superstardom status.

      3) Alex was supposed to hire a rookie? Who would probably destroy his second car and put making the rest of the races for the rest of the season in jeopardy? Instead, he decided to put somebody in the second car who will A) likely get the car in the show with little drama and B) bring the car home in one piece, thereby allowing the team to make a profit for the month. This is Alex playing the percentages. He’s not looking to find the next superstar with this move, he’s interested in the survival of his team. I can’t kill him for that.

      • Speed: If Bachelart was the main one getting SLAMMED… then no need for the “Nice Tags” angle to this story, eh dude :!: As for 1992: I’m OLD & without the ‘net people who were really P.O’d sent a letter to Auto Week or On Track magazines :!: :lol:

        Most of Bruno’s CART years were spent in weakened fields… Newman Haas was literally the “Ferrari” of CART/ CCWS @ the time. If it makes you feel better, Bourdais’ 4 championships don’t really impress me either (these two had the best team & cars) :idea: However, the IICS could still market a Sebastian Bourdais (due to his N/A championships…)

        Rookies are not magically set up to be an owner’s nightmare. Bottom line is hire ANYONE thats (1) younger & (2) someone who will provide a lil’ SAFE “drama” for the national media to get excited about. That’s why Indy is an afterthought to many of the sports press… QUIET & UNEVENTFUL drivers, putting their car into the show in a equally BORING manor :!: :( :( :(

    • I’m one of the most pro Amercan driver people out there, but I have no problem with hiring Bruno, and I think it was a classy move. Bruno’s career stats are still pretty good.

  4. Bruno was the most qualified driver out there sitting on the sidelines. It was a class move to pick him up after last year’s events, but it would also be a dumb move to look past him and choose anybody else.

  5. AZZ045, your argument is that because YOU don’t like Bruno Junqueira, the decision to put Bruno in a second Conquest car for the 500 is wrong. That argument is completely without merit for two reasons. One, Junqueira is a capable driver. And two, it’s not YOUR money. If you want someone to be in a car, there is a simple solution. Pay to put someone in a car or start your own team. You have NO right to criticize this decision, and the fact that you’re the only person who looks at this as a negative says a great deal about the way you think about this series. This is a very classy decision on Eric Bachelaert’s part, and it doesn’t need to be subjected to an attempted tainting by you or anyone else.

    • Edward: Its NOT a 2nd Conquest car … its a FAZZT 2nd team car :idea: & Eric Bachelart is NOT involved with FAZZT in ANY WAY :idea: :idea: So how the h*ll is it “classy” for someone NOT making the driver selection?

      As a fan I have every right to voice my opinions… I’m not a Kool-Aid drinker & a clapping circus seal :!: I think Bruno seems like a nice guy… however his driving resume does ZERO to promote new fan interest in the IICS :idea: The 100 fans that know him are already life long gear-heads.

      Excuse me if I wish the HUNDREDS of junior open wheel drivers competing in this country (on the “ROAD to INDY”) a shot at the big time. Bruno had his shot… now its time for the sport’s FUTURE to make their name :!: :!:

      • Dude, we know that it’s not Conquest’s second car, even if Edward mistyped. But, clearly Tags felt badly how things went down last year, and wanted to put his friend in HIS second car. Conquest went another way with their two cars (two rookies, mind you), which is fine. Alex had a chance to right what many perceived as a wrong that he had a part in last year, and did it.

        I’m aware that there were a couple of limited avenues for people to spout off about “wrongs” back in 1992, but I haven’t had the time to sort through my giant boxes of On Track magazines to see if that’s what happened back then. Maybe this weekend…but probably not. I don’t think that my finding one or two letters to the editor in June 1992 will really prove anything.

        I know that CART in 2002-2005 were not the strongest in the series’ history. You can feel free to put as many asterisks by Bruno’s and Sebastien’s names for winning races and championships (in Bourdais’ case) against limited talent, but the fact of the matter is that the top 8-10 guys in that series were still pretty quality drivers. To finish 2nd out of 8 good guys, even if it’s in top line equipment…that’s not something that every race car driver in the world can do. You’ve got to be well above average to do that.

        I know that “rookie” doesn’t always equal “wrecked race car in Turn 1″, but it stands to reason that a steady, experienced hand like Bruno’s is less likely to crumple a car in the south sort chute than somebody who is just learning their way around the Speedway. It is not Alex Tagliani and his co-owners’ job to promote the League as a whole by bringing in new talent (as you are implying), it’s their job to make sure that the team survives until the end of the year and beyond. The best way to do that is to make sure that you get a second car into the 500 (with its $200k payday for finishing last, all the better if you can do better than that), instead of rolling the dice with a new guy and possibly winding up with no second car in the show and a $500k repair bill for a destroyed car. Again, Alex and company are not in the market to swing for the fences with a hot, young talent, they need to put a second car in the show. They are playing the percentages.

        If you want to throw stones at somebody for not promoting new talent when they are more than financially capable of doing so, go yell at Chip or Roger.

  6. Speedgeek: Edward jumped on me for numerous reasons & then couldn’t keep his FACTS straight :idea:

    Every race series has TALENTED GUYS (& now girls)… but its meaningless when those TALENTS are driving sub-par equipment. Newman Haas & Forsythe were head & shoulders above your 8-10 guys. Only when AJA was PT’s team mate did these teams have FOUR of the “8-10″. That leaves 4-6 to beat in a “spec series”.

    As for PROMOTION… you are correct its not the sole job of the teams. It has (& SHOULD) be a group effort between the teams & the series :!: Indycar need to PROMOTE & KEEP their star drivers… the other big US series has done this. Indycar shouldn’t be a “ladder” series back to F1 or numerous other race series.

    As for Bruno… he has crashed several times @ Indy. Where is this magical guarantee that Tags & FAZZT will have an uneventful month of May @ Indy :?: :?: I understand your economic points… however 1/3rd of the 500 field filled with Junqueria types is thrilling to about a thousand diehard “Gear-heads” that are ALREADY IICS FANS :!: :idea:

    The ROAD to INDY has to start being more than a marketing slogan Speed :idea: Wish it was starting with Tags & FAZZT… but I also understand why it is NOT (in this specific case…)

    • There is no “magical guarantee” that Bruno won’t wad up a car in May. That is why I used the phrases “less likely” and “playing the percentages” several times. When the high percentage choices are the following: Junquiera, Rice, Lazier, Servia…and that’s about it, then I don’t think you can get too upset at Alex for hiring one of those four guys. Obviously, you’ve gotten upset, though, so I am wrong on that count.

      • I’m only “upset” over Indycar teams RECYCLING drivers in their late 30′s like the NBA rehires average coaches over & over.

        As for Lazier & Rice… at least INDY 500 CHAMPION could be added to their names & add a bullet point to the TV broadcast (having TWO additional former winners in the field) :idea:

        In your previous post you tell me to be more pi$$ed @ Penske & Ganassi for their hiring practices. Well sorry… but you seem to ENDORSE it for all the other owners so why be angry @ Roger & Chip :?: Its continuing the status quo that has not exactly HELPED Indycar racing Speedgeek.

        One could argue that you & the owners are not wrong, ya gotta do what a team owner has gotta do, eh??? Just like all the ALMS teams CAN NOT logically hire some unknown driver… they must hire an established sports car driver from Europe or Asia… its the LOGICAL thing to do

        FF to last month when Corvette Racing decided to test Graham Rahal :idea: He’s an OW guy, very little SC experience, its risky & a big gamble…… ugh what…. HOLY SHNIKES :!: :!: that kid kicked maximum A$$… + he’s American (driving America’s sports car…) Rahal now has one helluva back up if the N/H/L ride is only a rumor. Plus Corvette can promote their new midwestern racer.

        You call me upset (or grumpy) :?: I call my self a DREAMER. Looking to cheer for that next unknown North American star :idea: Call me crazy for dreaming FAZZT & Tags would give that unknown a shot (like Player’s helped Tags…) Nope they (& other teams) will just RECYCLE :!:

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