Tagliani's team takes blame for qualifying mistake

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INDIANAPOLIS - Rookie driver Alex Tagliani took the hit Sunday.

Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart took the blame after the Canadian rookie was bumped out of the Indianapolis 500 starting field on the last qualifying attempt.

Bachelart acknowledged the team made a mistake by pulling his full-time driver out of line twice in the final 19 minutes of time trials, a move that allowed Ryan Hunter-Reay to surpass Tagliani's four-lap average by 0.044 seconds.

"Now it's obvious we were too conservative, we should have just gone for it," Bachelart said.

Tagliani was too stunned to say much.

He huddled in solitude in the corner of his garage, crying for nearly an hour before answering questions. Even then, he was still stunned.

"It's kind of difficult to accept that fact that you need to go home with a car that is capable to be in the field," he said. "It's hard to comprehend."

Tagliani couldn't believe Hunter-Reay completed his run at 220.597 mph. Tagliani was the last driver out at 220.553.

He sat stupefied in the car as he watched the clock and the speeds, then quickly pulled down the visor to cover his face after Hunter-Reay crossed the yard of bricks for the final time.

Even more agonizing was how it occurred.

Conquest added former Indy pole winner Bruno Junqueira to its lineup Friday night. The Brazilian didn't run a lap until Sunday morning yet qualified 30th, the outside of Row 10, at 221.115.

And on a day six drivers withdrew Saturday's original qualifying speeds to requalify on a significantly faster track Sunday, Tagliani's team sat on his time.

It seemed like a good strategy.

"I guess we felt we were fine," Bachelart said. "When you're 26th on the grid, you keep it before you give it up."

That was little consolation.

While Junqueira was satisfied with his performance, he acknowledged it was difficult watching Tagliani sitting helplessly in his car.

Tagliani would still have a chance to race next Sunday - if Bachelart replaced Junqueira with his full-time driver in the No. 36 car. Bachelart said it was unlikely.

So Tagliani and his team will spend the next few days replaying how they got left out.

"I was there looking at the clock and looking at the speed till the very end," Bachelart said. "John (Andretti) and Ryan went quicker than expected and we were in the wrong place in line. I was there, I guess, too late, too."

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FIRST TIME: French rookie Nelson Philippe made Indy history Sunday - just not quite the way he expected.

With the slowest four-lap average (218.032) over the first three days of qualifying, Philippe refused to let anyone else bump him. So HVM Racing withdrew Saturday's time and sent Philippe out for the first attempt on Bump Day.

Good move.

Philippe clocked an average speed of 220.754, putting himself safely on the 33-car starting grid. He'll start 32nd, the middle of Row 11.

"I bumped myself. Has that ever been done before?" Philippe joked. "Probably, yeah, a 100-year history, right?"

What Philippe didn't know was that he did achieve a speedway first Sunday.

He is the first driver to ever qualify with the No. 00. No car had been entered in the previous 92 Indy races.

But that record also comes with a caveat: Track officials did not allow cars to use a zero in front of another number until the last several years.

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ALL IN FAMILY: Indy Lights driver Charlie Kimball comes from a racing family.

His father, Gordon, designed the car Gordon Johncock used to win the 1982 Indy 500, and his sister works in a marketing job on the Formula One circuit.

So when the 24-year-old California native makes it onto the track this week's Firestone Freedom 100 qualifying, all eyes in the Kimball family will be on Indianapolis, again.

"I'm sure (winning) it would be very special for him," Kimball said of his father. "My mom's coming, too, and she's been my support. She never let me slack off. My sister won't be here because she's got a race. But it should be fun."

And even from overseas, it's a good bet Kimball's sister will keeping tabs on Indy, just like she did in '82.

"When we were little, my sister's favorite thing to do, after Johncock won, was to tell people 'My daddy's Gordon Johncock," Kimball said.

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SPARK PLUGS: Four former Indy 500 winners made the starting field. They are: pole-winner Helio Castroneves (2001 and 2002), Dan Wheldon (2005), Dario Franchitti (2007) and defending champion Scott Dixon. One former winner, Buddy Lazier (1996) did not make the lineup.... Lazier's absence ends the longest active streak of consecutive Indy starts at 14. He was the only driver to start every 500 since the inception of the Indy Racing League in 1996.... During a late morning ceremony at the track, new American armed forces enlistees were sworn in by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). Raphael Matos' No. 2 car is sponsored by the U.S. Air Force, and Wheldon's No. 4 car is sponsored by the National Guard.... Azul Tequila was added a sponsor for KV Racing's No. 5 car, driven by Mario Moraes.


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