Shouldn't have to pay to play in racing: Junqueira

DEAN, MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:52 PM ET

BOWMANVILLE -- Bruno Junqueira will start 17th in the No. 99 Jaguar XKR in the American Le Mans Series Mobil 1 Mosport Grand Prix on Sunday and he is happy to be there.

When he last visited these parts, Junqueira was among the stars of the Champ Car World Series battling the likes of Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais and Christiano da Matta for championships at the then Molson Indy Toronto.

For three consecutive seasons from 2002-2004 Junqueira finished second behind Da Matta, Tracy and Bourdais, respectively, in the Champ Car championship.

In those years he earned eight wins and nine pole positions.

He was also being paid in the neighbourhood of $1.5 million U.S. a season driving for Newman Haas Racing and before that with Chip Ganassi Racing, that are to this day top teams in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

But when teams in the IndyCar series began demanding drivers bring their own money if they wanted to race, Junqueira knew it was time for him to shift his gears, so to speak.

"It makes me feel sick to see great drivers like Paul Tracy and Tony Kanaan having to pay teams to let them drive," he said Saturday in the air-conditioned comfort of the Jaguar team transporter.

"When I was making good money in Champ Car I vowed that when the day came that I had to pay to drive, then I would quit."

That day came after the merger of Champ Car and the Indy Racing League when Junqueira found himself on the outside looking in.

After a couple of seasons taking the occasional paying IndyCar ride at the Indianapolis 500, Junqueira went back to his native Brazil to race sports cars last year.

Then came the offer from Jaguar to race in the American Le Mans Series at the start of the current season.

And not without its dose of irony, right after agreeing to the Jaguar deal, IndyCar owner A.J. Foyt called Junqueira to ask if he would agree to try to qualify one of his cars at this year's100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis 500.

"(Foyt) told me 'don't worry about bringing money,' that he would pay me out of his own pocket," Junqueira said.

Well, it turned out that Junqueira put Foyt's car on the Indy 500 grid, something two of the high-priced Andretti Autosport teams did not.

Faced with having to pay Junqueira to drive or getting a big chunk of change from Andretti to let their driver Ryan Hunter-Reay in the car, Foyt chose the latter.

"I respect his decision," Junqueira said. "But I think the fans get cheated because the guys who qualify the cars should be the ones who drive in the race."

In any event, Junqueira said he would have been more upset had he not had the ALMS Jaguar contract to fall back on.

"It really fit in to my plans," he said. "I always felt that once I turned 35 I would look at racing sports cars for a career anyway and I will turn 35 this season."

Junqueira said that he figures he can have at least another 15 years racing the slick GT-class cars in ALMS.

But that doesn't lessen his irritation at the economic model under which the IZOD IndyCar series operates.

"It just seems crazy that in a professional sport you have drivers who have to pay to play," he said. "I can't think of any other sport where that happens."

Junqueira said that somehow the system needs to be fixed, but he does not have the answer.

"I know the economy has a lot to do with it, but I have to think there has to be a better way to run a race series," he said.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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