Edmonton race still needs an ace

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

Alex Tagliani is back in the Indianapolis 500. And so is Rexall Edmonton Indy sponsorship.

So maybe it's your correspondent who "looks a little foolish" today, and not Northlands.

But I stick with the editorial tone of the story that changed late Sunday, hours after Tagliani and the Edmonton Indy-sponsored car got clipped from the 33-car field in the Bump Day final qualifying.

Northlands should be out there securing sponsorship instead of being sponsorship.

Without big time sponsorship, despite the amazing crowds and rave reviews from every direction, this race will not survive here.

The fact Tagliani is back in the Indy 500 shouldn't excuse Northlands from having to do some pubic accounting for spending public money on this sponsorship package after last year's $5.3 million loss on a race event which has been stunningly successful in every other area except securing significant sponsorship.

At least having Tagliani back in the field does give Northlands, which took over the race last year with City of Edmonton financial backing, a chance to still get some bang for their buck.

In fact, the sponsorship is getting more notice today with the way all this has worked out than if Tagliani had ended up qualified on the last row instead of being bumped by Ryan Hunter-Reay.

It's all rather slapstick, the way it went down.

It all began with Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart pulling Tagliani off the line twice in the final 19 minutes of qualifying, only to leave the driver sitting "stupefied in his car" when a faster lap by Hunter-Reay bumped him from the race.

According to the wire story, Tagliani was then reported to have spent nearly an hour "huddled in solitude in the corner of his garage, crying."

Mike Harris of The Associated Press followed that with a report, hours after Tagliani was bumped, that the Canadian driver will replace Bruno Junqueira in the No. 36 car and take the sponsorship package with him.

Junqueira, who didn't get his ride until Saturday, qualified the second Conquest Racing car Sunday, ahead of Tagliani.

Conquest elected to pull Junqueira from the car and replace him with Tagliani and his Northlands sponsorship package.

"We've been working with Alex for a long time now and have built our commercial and marketing program around him," Bachelart explained in a team release.

"He has been our primary driver since the start of the season and we felt that it was in the best interests of the team and our partners to have him in the car for the Indy 500 as we continue to build our future together."

Bachelart said Tagliani was not to blame for what happened.

"Alex simply fell victim to exceptional circumstances."

Tagliani's statement was "to first of all say thank you to Bruno for being so understanding and to the team for taking this decision."

He added: "If we had to redo things we'd have probably done them different."

No question, this will now put a focus on Tagliani and the Edmonton car in the race that will be televised, as always, on ABC with massive worldwide viewership.

To what extent that turns out to be positive or negative is open to debate.

You shouldn't have a problem with the concept of promoting Edmonton.

Indeed, that's what the race is all about in the first place and why the city underwriting it to some extent (but hardly $5.3 million) is to be applauded.

The Edmonton Indy is an outstanding event which adds to the quality of life here and greatly enhances the image of the city -- which greatly needs to be enhanced.

But this is about Northlands and running a race it had no clue about how to run last year.

The organization has yet to provide anything in the way of major sponsorship announcements or any sign of creating any sizzle to go with putting on this spectacular show other than to sponsor a race car themselves for who knows how much money.

It's 67 days to race day and Edmonton needs to be getting interested and excited about the Rexall Edmonton Indy -- not about the car with Rexall Edmonton Indy painted on the side.


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