Big league auto racing is big business and there is no room for sentiment.
There is a hue and cry over A.J. Foyt’s decision on Monday to remove Bruno Junqueira from the car he qualified for next weekend’s 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 in favour of Michael Andretti’s driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was bumped out of the field at the last minute on Sunday.
But so what? Like it’s never happened before?
People talk about the closest finish in Indy 500 history – in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. beat our own Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds. In fact, I wrote a bit about that in my newspaper column on Saturday.
What everybody forgets is that Goodyear was bumped out of the race at the last second that year and had to take over a car that had been qualified by Mike Groff.
Several years ago, Junqueira qualified a car and was then asked to vacate the seat in favour of our own Alex Tagliani, who hadn’t made it into the race himself. (What is it about Canadians and kicking drivers out of cars at Indy?)
That Goodyear and Tagliani were primary drivers who asked hired guns to step aside is immaterial. The fact of the matter is that guys who qualified cars for the Indianapolis 500 were kicked out in favour of other drivers.
It’s happened before and it will happen again because it's the car that's qualified, not the driver.
As I said, sentiment can’t play a part here.
It costs millions and millions of dollars to play this game. Millions. Sponsors pay all of the freight, one way or another, whether it be as primary sponsor of a car or as the sponsor of a driver.
Now, most of these sponsors participate in the whole IZOD IndyCar Series but I’ve got news: the only race that counts – the only race that counts – is the Indianapolis 500.
For a major sponsor to miss the world biggest race would be a total disaster. It might be enough to cancel the sponsorship. So arms get twisted to make sure it doesn’t happen.
Hunter-Reay is sponsored by DHL, which calls itself the world’s largest courier and shipping company. The car that Bruno Junqueira, who is an unsponsored driver, drove fast enough to qualify for next Sunday’s 500 is, itself, largely unsponsored.
So it was a no-brainer that Foyt would agree to a deal with Michael Andretti and DHL to give Bruno the boot and let Hunter-Reay saddle up next Sunday.
In a perfect world, Bruno Junqueira would still be in Foyt’s second car. But the world is not perfect – it’s a cruel world, in fact – and money talks.
Michael Andretti had to find a way to keep DHL happy. This worked, to everybody’s satisfaction. Well, maybe not to Bruno’s, but he doesn’t count.
And by the way, if Danica Patrick hadn’t qualified for the 500 on Sunday, you can bet that the exact same thing would be happening.