By: Tony DiZinno, IndyCar correspondent
- Junqueira was to race in 2011 Indy 500
- Brazilian now out, Hunter-Reay is in the field
A.J. Foyt makes a deal with Michael Andretti
While the 6:00 p.m. gun sounded on Sunday evening with Ryan Hunter-Reay left out of the centennial Indianapolis 500 field, it turned out his door to racing in the event had not yet closed.
A deal was struck late Monday afternoon between Hunter-Reay’s team, Andretti Autosport, and A.J. Foyt Enterprises, where Hunter-Reay will replace Bruno Junqueira aboard the No. 41 car this Sunday.
This is going back to the way racing used to be, ...
Commercial interests played a role in the decision. The sponsors on Hunter-Reay’s usual No. 28 car owned by Michael Andretti, DHL and Sun Drop, will take a prominent role on the rebranded Coyote Red car. On the sidepods will be the main Foyt team sponsor, ABC Supply, while their other sponsor, Alfe Heat Treating will be present also.
Foyt Enterprises team owner A.J. Foyt admitted the complex situation but chose to “reach out” to a rival.
“We’ve (Foyt and Andretti) been competitors for many years but still it’s the kind of relationship when someone is really down and out, you can’t turn your back on them — at least I can’t,” Foyt said. “This is going back to the way racing used to be, where if people were in a lot of trouble, you tried to help each other out.”
Andretti expressed thanks for getting another of his full-season entries into the field. The team’s fourth full-time entrant, Long Beach winner Mike Conway, also failed to qualify.
“I can’t thank A.J. and his team enough for giving us an opportunity to put Ryan, DHL, Sun Drop and our other valued sponsors in the Indy 500,” Andretti said. “Obviously, this is a unique circumstance for our team, but the thought of A.J. Foyt joining forces with the Andrettis for the Indy 500 could result in something special. It’s a credit to A.J. for being willing to help us with one of our full-season IndyCar entries at a time when we need it.”
Junqueira is fast becoming a “qualifying only” specialist, as he is now out of the race before it has even started for the second time in the last three years. The Brazilian also qualified a car for Conquest Racing in 2009, but was replaced by his then-teammate Alex Tagliani for roughly the same reasons.
Incidentally, last year he qualified and raced a second car driving for Tagliani, this year’s Indianapolis 500 pole sitter.
“I have to thank A.J., Larry and the team for giving me this opportunity to drive at Indy this year because otherwise I would have been riding my bike in Miami,” Junqueira said. “I always respected A.J. before, but after working with him, I respect him even more. He has a lot of knowledge and I learned a lot from him. I had a great time working with him and Vitor, and I hope my work helped them this month. I also hope the team has a great race.”
Junqueira made the field on pole day, qualifying 19th of the 24 cars that made the field that day. The Brazilian posted a 224.691 mph four-lap qualifying average.
Hunter-Reay, like his teammates, struggled to find the necessary speed throughout the week. He was barely able to watch when Marco Andretti bumped him out with the last qualifying run at 224.628, a speed good enough for 28th on the final grid.
While Foyt’s primary car driven by Vitor Meira starts 11th on Sunday, the No. 41 car drops to the rear of the field per the driver change. Junqueira’s next scheduled race is the next round of the American Le Mans Series, driving a Jaguar RSR in the series’ GT class, July 9 at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.
In the age of instant reaction, it is worth noting KV Racing Technology — Lotus team co-owner Jimmy Vasser took to Twitter and tweeted, “Bump day is now officially a joke. Lying to the fans again! They won’t understand when they tune in on race day.” He also claimed Foyt was “selling out to Andretti” in a previous tweet addressed directly to Junqueira.