Ready To Slow Down To Go Fast at Texas
Though Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth is one of the fastest tracks on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, driver Alex Tagliani is looking forward to this weekend’s Firestone Twin 275s so he can slow down a little bit.
It’s not the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone car he is looking to slow. Rather, it’s his life outside of the cockpit that he is hoping to shift into a lower gear. After winning the pole for the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, Tagliani has been a man in demand.
Winning the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 brings as many interview requests and accolades than what comes with winning most other actual races in motorsports. Add to the fact that Tagliani is Canadian, and everyone in North America wanted to hear his story during Indy 500 race week. In addition to media interviews and autograph sessions in Indianapolis, Tagliani flew to Toronto on the Monday of race week for a one-day media blitz, and then spent the next day at the world headquarters of ESPN.
A childhood friend who was staying with the driver during race week said, “My friend has become a rock star,” as he watched Tagliani sign autograph after autograph in-between live TV interviews in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Gasoline Alley. Indeed, he had.
Many thought the rock star would slow down after his racecar slammed the rock-hard SAFER Barrier during the 500. The accident knocked the No. 77 Bower’s & Wilkins car out of the race, but it didn’t slow down the driver. He was one of the first to greet friend and teammate Dan Wheldon in victory lane to help the Brit celebrate his second Indianapolis 500 win. The next night, Tagliani and his wife, Bronte, joined the other 32 Indy 500 drivers for the annual victory awards dinner in downtown Indianapolis.
With month of May festivities over, most drivers were looking for time off. But not Tagliani. He boarded a plane for Montreal the morning after the awards dinner. His mission in Montreal was to thank the numerous Canadians who traveled to Indy to support him. To repay these fans, Tagliani accepted an offer to race in a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series stock car event near Montreal this past weekend, which is also near the driver’s hometown of Lachenaie, Quebec.
Proving the brush with the SAFER Barrier at Indy didn’t slow him down, Tagliani put his stock car on the pole for Sunday’s Grand Prix ICAR in Mirabel, Quebec. He had led nearly the entire race when his own teammate pushed him into a guardrail and out of the lead with just a few laps remaining. He finished eighth.
Tagliani remained in Montreal to fulfill media and sponsor commitments for two days after the NASCAR race before returning to his Indy home only long enough to re-pack and head to Texas for round six of the 2011 IndyCar Series schedule. In Texas, he will only slow down long enough to climb into the cockpit – to go fast again.
Alex Tagliani, Driver of the No. 77 B&W Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
Indy presents the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. You experienced both this May. How have you put it behind you?
“The biggest thing for us is that the team could leave Indianapolis with their heads up high. When everything was in our control, we did everything really well. Obviously, in racing, there are always little situations that you can’t control. When the competition is what it is in Indianapolis and one little thing goes wrong and you only have time to put a Band-Aid on the issue, it’s not a good situation. We never gave up in the race. We were fighting various little issues. Considering that, we did really well. The outcome may have been different if we had a couple of yellow-flag pit stops to fix the issues. But, on the green stops, the team did everything it could to fix the issues. It is what it is. Indianapolis is one of those places, with the level of competition we have, that you can’t have anything go wrong. There aren’t just four cars on the lead lap. There are multiple cars on the lead lap. The competition is huge, and it’s one of those races where you can only succeed if everything goes your way and you have a bit of luck. But, I’m still very proud of the team and how hard they worked over the winter to prepare the car for Indy. It was a great feeling to show speed in qualifying because that gives the crew a big reward for what they do.”
While many of the other IndyCar Series drivers were relaxing this week, you were back in a racecar less than five days after the Indy 500. Explain that.
“I was very touched by the fact so many people from all over Canada came to Indy with flags and with signage for me. Some people drove more than 14 hours to come to Indy, and some didn’t decide to attend the race until after I won the pole. I got an offer to drive a car at a local track in Quebec during a NASCAR event, and it gave me a chance to represent Hot Wheels Canada and some of my other personal sponsors. I think the race was just the right thing to do along with the media tour in Quebec, which is near my hometown. The fans seemed super excited that I was there. It would have been unfair to have the offer to race and then refuse it just because I was tired after Indy. The people came and supported me at Indy, and I wanted to do the same for them.”
There’s a lot of sparks from the car.
Indy and Texas are the two fastest tracks on the schedule, yet they are quite different. Explain the differences for a driver.
“Texas is the type of track, because of its nature and the banking, that you need to stay down at the bottom if you want to go as fast as you can for qualifying. And then, in the race, there are multiple grooves so you’ll see cars going three-wide because they can. It’s the type of track where you’ll see more pack running than single-file running. So that’s one of the biggest differences between Texas and Indy. It will be very difficult for someone to take the lead and walk away from the field. There will be more group running.”
Texas Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series have added a new twist to this year’s event. What are your thoughts on the event?
“This year, the big thing is that we’ll have two separate races with only an hour in-between. So your approach when you start the first race should be sensible to make sure you are there at the end because, right after that race, you’re going to have to do the second one. If you don’t have a spare car, I think it’s really important that you take those two separate events and consider them to be one big race and you’ll have to be there at the end of the second one.”
When was the last time you ran two major races in the same day?
“It would have to be back in my karting days. I remember, in go-karts, running a shifter kart and then a Formula A kart. Those are two separate classes we’d race in one day, and that was a long time ago. That’s the only time I can remember racing twice in one day.”
With your racing background, you haven’t raced under the lights too much. Talk about racing under the lights. What’s it like for you?
“Obviously, the lights are quite bright. There’s a lot of sparks from the car. There’s a lot of glare that you have to work with. It’s bright enough that you can see well, but it’s dark enough that you can’t run a dark visor. So you have to run a clear visor. So, with some of the shiny paint schemes on the cars and along the ground, you have some glare, which can make it challenging. ”
Rob Edwards, Team Manager of the No. 77 B&W Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
How important is it to have that extra week off between Indy and Texas?
“Because we needed to repair the damage to the No. 99 car and the No. 77 car from Indianapolis, the extra week is invaluable. Also, the crew has been working non-stop since we returned from Brazil, so the chance to have a weekend off is important for the team.”
Sam Schmidt Motorsports is going to Texas with a new lead engineer. With your veteran team, what will be the biggest challenge working with a new lead engineer?
“We are very fortunate to have Todd (Malloy) with us this weekend. Since he was part of the engineering group (No. 77, No. 98 and the No. 99 teams) working together at Indy, it will help the transition. At the same time, Allen (McDonald) was part of the founding group of this team, so much of the continuity that has built up over the last 18 months will be lost. Instead of work happening intuitively, we will have to learn to work together as we go.”