CHAMPCAR/CART: Tag savors first victory at Road America

It's taken Alex Tagliani 85 races to earn his first Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford event, and it sure didn't come easily for the 31-year-old French- Canadian in the Grand Prix of Road America today. After...

It's taken Alex Tagliani 85 races to earn his first Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford event, and it sure didn't come easily for the 31-year-old French- Canadian in the Grand Prix of Road America today.

After crashing in Friday practice and being unable to take part in provisional qualifying, Tag placed the #8 Johnson Controls Lola/Ford- Cosworth/Bridgestone racer from Rocketsports Racing in 13th grid position (despite a balky shifter) for the scheduled 52-lap shootout on Elkhart Lake's Road America, the 4.048-mile permanent road course in the Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin.

Timely decisions by his crew during a race slowed five times for caution helped Tagliani gain the win and the first words out of his mouth on this warm, sunny afternoon were to give credit where due: "I made the team work really hard this weekend and this win is for them," he declared. "I've had misfortune many times in my career but not today!"

The Rocketsports team brought Tagliani into the pits for his first green flag stop on lap 14 when he was running eighth, just before the second caution took place and many of the front-runners had to pit for fuel, leaving many with the need to pit thrice again.

Champ Car World Series race directors had decreed three green flag pit stops prior to lap 44 for the Road America round and had also announced an additional 15 seconds of push-to-pass horsepower (to 75 seconds overall) due to the length of the circuit.

Tagliani made his second stop from the lead on lap 29, just before the fourth caution period and his third on lap 40 as he went on to lead the most laps, 16 (actually shared with Paul Tracy).

Another unlikely finisher, Rodolfo Lavin took second step on the podium, 1.855 seconds behind Tag in a race that ran a total of 48 laps. Lavin started 10th in the #3 Corona Beer Lola and lucked out with his pit strategies, too. "I have a great car and a great crew," he exulted. "We had some luck after our first pit stop and I just concentrated on putting in consistent laps."

Polesitter and Sebastien Bourdais recovered from contact with Paul Tracy's #1 Indeck Lola and Newman-Haas Racing teammate Bruno Junqueira's #6 PacifiCare Lola to bring the points-leading #2 McDonalds Lola home in third., running 16 laps at the front "We were leading the race. We had a good car. Then this yellow came out at the wrong moment. When I restarted the pace car was in the middle of the track at 14.

"So Tracy passed Bruno straight away when the green flag was thrown. Tracy was right in my gearbox, he passed me and, as a matter of fact trying to pass me, he touched me and bent my left front suspension." Bourdais' Lola became a monster to drive from then on but when Junqueira tried to get by, "I just kept my line. He had one wheel snuck between the curb and my car and we've had contact again."

With both left front and right rear bent, "I just didn't know what to think anymore. I had a terrible time to drive the car. I got passed; I passed a bunch of people and here I am on the podium and I have no idea what happened in between!"

Herdez Competition teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Lola) and Mario Dominguez in the #55 Lola were fourth and fifth at the checkered flags after taking roller-coaster rides through the standings and being involved in some of the incidents. "On the first lap Vasser ran me off the back straight. Then I had the inside line into Canada corner and he completely turned in on me. It was a lot of work out there and a strange day for sure, but I am happy for the top five," Hunter-Reay said.

Dominguez credited engineer Mike Cannon for his part in the finish. "It was a tough race to know what was going on. At one point we were in the pack of the pack but Mike managed to get us back to the front. The car was good and I was faster than a lot of cars."

Oriol Servia in the #11 YokeTV.com Lola finished sixth for the second consecutive race and earned his fifth top-10 result of the eight-race 2004 season. Rookie Justin Wilson in the #34 Mi-Jack Lola was pleased to take seventh, the Briton having suspension issues on this 14-corner road course.

Vasser's #12 Gulfstream Lola took eighth after the first-lap altercation with Hunter-Reay that knocked out any communication with his crew. "We had no idea on strategy and that was a wild, wild race," Vasser said. In all he made five pit stops, the first on lap 2 to change his damaged nosecone.

Michel Jourdain Jr. was ninth in the #9 Gigante Lola and agreed strategy played a bit part in everyone's results today. "We just really got caught out by the way the yellows fell - and how many there were."

Paul Tracy was tenth at the flags - but penalized to 12th for "avoidable contact" with Junqueira. Charging from sixth grid spot, Tracy led 16 laps and ran as hard as he could - everyday stuff for the Thrill from West Hill. "My last pit stop was terrible - we had the left front wheel gun jam and when we came out we were 11th in front of Bruno. A good fight through the early turns and then he brake-tested me into Turn 5. We contacted and went off together as he spun." Tracy drove off but had to do a drive-through penalty.

Mr. Excitement's demotion pushed Champ Car first-timer Guy Smith into tenth place in his inaugural drive of the #17 Rocketsports Lola. The Briton, an Indy Lights grad found his first Champ Car race "all and more than I expected. It was a tremendous challenge and I'm pleased to have finished," accomplishing his weekend goal.

Mario Haberfeld had braking problems that relegated him to 11th in the #5 Cummins Reynard, Tracy was deemed 12th and his protégé A.J. Allmendinger ended up an unlucky 13th after another good run. "With all the yellows we had a really tough time getting in the three stops; our strategy just didn't play out. The car wasn't handling all that great and when I got under Paul [Tracy] I just spun. It was my mistake." Allmendinger continues to lead Wilson in the rookie points 116-107.

Speaking of points, this was quite an adventure of a day for Bourdais, who now holds 213 points while Junqueira, who finished 15th has 166. Only Gaston Mazzacane failed to complete the race, falling off after 29 laps in the #19 American Medical Response Lola. With his victory today, Tag moved up to third in the points chase with 153, Tracy fell to fourth with 152 while hapless Patrick Carpentier, caught up in the first-lap melee with his #7 Indeck Lola now lies fifth with 141 points.

Philosopher Tagliani said, "I think it takes a really fast car, good strategy, a little bit of luck to be able to win a race in this series. And I think today all the ingredients were there."

He gets the chance to do it again next week when the Champ Cars run their third race on the Denver street circuit, as the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver is scheduled for August 15th.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gaston Mazzacane , Mario Haberfeld , Justin Wilson , Guy Smith , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Rodolfo Lavin , Michel Jourdain