A Rare Gesture Of Loyalty
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.