By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Juncos Racing were the epitome of a roller coaster ride leading up to qualifying for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Lose a sponsor in the days before practice opened at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Crash on Fast Friday. Stay up all Friday night preparing the car to qualify on Saturday. Run three incomplete qualifying attempts Saturday afternoon. Stay up all Saturday night further preparing the car for Sunday. Skip Sunday morning practice before the rain came down. Qualify 33rd and bump Fernando Alonso and McLaren out of the 2019 Indianapolis 500 field.
It’s an unconventional path to make the Indianapolis 500, but that’s how Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing made the race scheduled for May 26th.
Juncos Racing rolled out with an all white car when practice started on Tuesday May 14th. On May 16th, Kaiser turned the seventh fastest lap of the day, but the 2017 Indy Lights champion had an incident on his first flying lap on Fast Friday, the final practice day before qualifications.
Ricardo Juncos’s team brought out the chassis that they ran at the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas on March 24th from their race shop, which is only a 10 minute drive from the Speedway. The team began preparations that ran through Friday night, all the way through Saturday and into Sunday morning with many members of the team working upwards of 40 hours in a row.
“We were top 10 the whole week with the other car, we crashed the car and we were devastated,” said Juncos. “We were about to go home. We said, ‘Let’s put the other car together.’ We worked through the night and here we are.”
“We were up all night,” said Juncos Racing Indy car crew chief Tom Vigne. “We never stopped. We dropped the car, we set it up, we calibrated all the sensors and went straight to tech.”
After three unsuccessful attempts on Saturday, Kaiser and Juncos skipped Sunday morning’s pre-qualifying practice session to work on their car.
Kaiser was the last car to participate in the Last Row Shootout, qualifying at 4:53 on Sunday afternoon. His first lap of 227.720 mph was the fourth fastest opening lap, but Indianapolis 500 qualifications are about a four lap average. The average to beat was Alonso’s 227.353 mph and Kaiser’s second lap was 227.420. Still fast enough, but the margin of safety was decreasing.
Kaiser’s final two laps of 227.239 and 227.109 mph brought the four lap average down to 227.372 mph. With a margin of .0129 seconds over 10 miles, that was enough to bump Alonso and Team McLaren out of the 103rd Indianapolis 500.
— Indianapolis Motor Speedway (@IMS) May 19, 2019
Este momento… 🙌🏼 @ricardojuncos
This moment… 🙌🏼 #WeAreIN
— Juncos Racing (@juncosracing) May 19, 2019
The California native didn’t know on Saturday if he or his car would have the speed to make the field. After three unsuccessful attempts, the mechanics and engineers were able to work on the car to figure out the proper balance for qualifying.
“Yesterday, we had the chance to really get some laps and get the balance dialed in,” said Kaiser. “Even though those later runs didn’t seem very important and we weren’t getting the speed, getting that balance in that car was more important than anything we could’ve done. Those guys were working during that rain the whole time scrubbing that car, getting it as slick as possible, anything they could do to get the speed out of it. I think that was all we had.
“I’m sure I wasn’t the only one crying when we came around and we made the race. This is the one thing that I think can really pay off all that effort. We gave it everything we had and we went into this knowing that no matter the result was, we gave it 100 percent and just very fortunate that 100 percent effort was 100 percent result in this case.”
This photo sums it all… All hard work, dedication, perseverance and passion. WE DID IT! Now, let’s go for the #Indy500
— Juncos Racing (@juncosracing) May 19, 2019
Juncos Racing employs about 45 people between their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program, their two programs in the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and the NTT IndyCar Series team. That’s a direct contrast to McLaren’s parent company employing about 3,800 people, according to their 2018 end of year financial statements.
Many people work on multiple programs across the Juncos Racing shop, and all hands were on deck to rebuild their road course car into a superspeedway missile.
“Nobody went home,” said Juncos. “I mean, there were a few people that about 4:00 in the morning we sent home, because they just wanted to stay there, because they feel they don’t want to leave the race (car) alone, but also we have to have some energy, fresh energy the next day.
“My wife went back and forth bringing food to the guys. So everybody stayed there, and that’s the way we are all the time.”
Some of Juncos Racing’s staff have been with the team for many years, going back to when they were a small karting team known as Juncos Competition. Their determination to compete at the highest level of American open wheel racing and the whole teams’ effort was rewarded with a starting position in the Indianapolis 500 despite having a minimal budget.
“Sometimes it’s not about money,” said Juncos. “Sometimes it’s about desire, passion and work and common sense and the group, teamwork and the chemistry that my team has and all the family chemistry and everything we’re talking about.
“You cannot buy that with money, and that’s the difference.”