RHR in line to qualify
RHR in line to qualify
Monday evening, less than 24 hours after the official Indianapolis 500 Starting Lineup was official, word was out that Andretti Autosport driver, RYAN HUNTER-REAY would replace A.J. Foyt’s driver, BRUNO JUNQUEIRA for the 100th Anniversary race.

Both team owners, MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Andretti Autosport Chairman, President and Chief Executive officer, and A.J. FOYT issued press releases Monday evening. The story had been rumored throughout the day, while all 33 Indy 500 drivers were on various media blitzes. Junqueira, of Brazil, was in Milwaukee with PAUL KELLY of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ROBIN MILLER, the unabashed, outspoken chronicler with SPEEDtv.com.

RHR, from Dallas TX, wasn’t with any of the traveling dog and pony shows, as he had been bumped at 5:59pm Sunday, one minute from the end of qualifying … by his Andretti teammate, MARCO ANDRETTI.

Both Foyt drivers, Junqueira/No.41 ABC Supply, and his teammate, VITOR MEIRA/No.14 ABC Supply qualified Saturday, with Meira in eleventh place, and Junqueira in nineteenth. Meira is Foyt’s full-time 2011 driver, while Junqueira is a one-off for the Indy 500.

Andretti’s release was short, while Foyt’s was longer and more explanatory.

What wasn’t set forth were details on exactly how RHR would get into the field. Would Foyt be withdrawing Junqueira’s car, allowing RHR to make the field in his Andretti car (as the first bumped car), or if Hunter-Reay would get into Foyt’s car. Either option has the same result – RHR would start last.

Hunter-Reay had driven for Foyt’s team in 2009, replacing the injured Meira. The following year RHR joined Andretti Autosport and his contract extends through next year. It was Hunter-Reay who suggested to Michael Andretti that he contact Foyt.

Michael Andretti said ““I can’t thank A.J. enough for giving Ryan the chance to drive for his team in the Indy 500. We also appreciate his willingness to allow our dedicated sponsors to have a presence on the 41 car.”

Foyt said “We’ve 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. 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. I know it’s a tough deal for Bruno but he understood the situation. I appreciate that more than anyone knows.”

RHR said “There has been an incredible range of emotion these past few days. I know this is not the first time this has happened in Indy 500 history but I feel terrible for Bruno and I thank him for his efforts and I hope he understands. It’s cool to be driving for A.J. again, especially with Michael’s support and encouragement. This is not how I envisioned the month of May this year but we are still committed to winning this race.”

Junqueira said he enjoyed his brief experience working with the Foyt team. “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. 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.”

This is the second time in three years that Junqueira has been asked to step aside in favor of a team’s ‘regular’ driver, but this time it’s for another team. In 2009 he qualified a car for Conquest Racing in a one-off Indy 500 deal, but was replaced by his teammate, ‘regular’ driver ALEX TAGLIANI of Canada, who had failed to qualify. This year, Tag , driving No.77 Bowers & Wilkins/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, is pole sitter.

Andretti Autosport had a rough weekend, with five drivers entered and two not qualifying. Sunday evening Michael Andretti said it was his worst day as a team owner. Monday, local CBS TV affiliate, WISH, confirmed that Andretti Autosport Director of Competition, TOM ANDERSON, had been fired.

The only Andretti driver to qualify on Saturday was one-off driver, cousin JOHN ANDRETTI/No.43 Team Window World Andretti Autosport, who was seventeenth. Sunday DANICA PATRICK/No.7 Team GoDaddy Andretti Autosport made the field at the last minute – P26, and and even more last minute, Marco Andretti/No.26 Team Venom Andretti Autosport-P28.

After Saturday qualifying, John Andretti was asked by WISH reporter, CHRIS WIDLIC, if he would step aside for another Andretti Autosport driver. Obviously very angry, John Andretti repeatedly asked the reporter “Why would you ask me that?” Widlic persisted and Andretti wouldn’t answer. Back in the studio, WISH car racing expert and Indy 500 broadcaster, DEREK DALY, defended Widlic’s persistence.

This week’s driver swap between teams is possibly the first instance of a two-team swap since 1981, one of the more controversial Indy 500 races.

WALLY DALLENBACH qualified as planned for MARIO ANDRETTI (eighth) as Andretti was racing F1 in Belgium, so Andretti started last.

GEORGE SNIDER was replaced in that same race by TIM RICHMOND, who finished fourteenth. According to a story filed Sunday 22 May 2011 by JAN SHAFFER of the IMS News Bureau, “It always seemed like Foyt would drag out a car at the last minute, stuff Snider in the cockpit, and qualify. The year Snider qualified and didn’t race was 1981, when the qualified ride was sold to Tim Richmond,” who had failed to qualify in his car.

Shaffer continued “Snider remembered a time when everybody jumped in line at the last minute and he didn’t even know he was qualifying for Foyt.” Snider said “I was always a second-weekend guy. I always figured the more practice you got, the slower you went. You change things, and you forget where you started. So I wasn’t really a practice guy. A lot of guys like to practice a lot. A.J. really didn’t practice that much, either.”

In that 1981 race, Mario Andretti was second across the Start-Finish line after starting thirty-second, but a day later was given the finish after BOBBY UNSER was given a one-position penalty for passing under caution, and was credited with second place. A.J. FOYT finished thirteenth.

The exact details of the swap haven’t been revealed. The i’s haven’t been dotted nor the t’s crossed. IndyCar still has to make the final approval on whatever resolution is proposed. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, check out Twitter for all the reactions, including negatives from other IndyCar drivers. The most gracious of all Tweets comes from Junqueira. “I will not race in the Indy 500. It was good to driver in Indy again and qualify in the first day. I think I helped @AJFoytRacing to have a good car for the race. Now I will cheer for my friend and team mate @vitormeira18.”