In his second season with Player's/Forsythe Racing, Alex Tagliani is one of the young, rising stars campaigning the CART FedEx Championship Series. After failing to finish any of the first four races of the 2001 season, Tagliani has rebounded to...
In his second season with Player's/Forsythe Racing, Alex Tagliani is one of the young, rising stars campaigning the CART FedEx Championship Series. After failing to finish any of the first four races of the 2001 season, Tagliani has rebounded to make five top-10 finishes, including his first career podium appearance, Toronto, and has now scored championship points in eight of the last nine races, including seven straight.
ALEX TAGLIANI - #33 Player's/Forsythe Ford-Cosworth
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS SEASON THUS FAR?
"I think when the season ends we'll regret those first couple of races where we didn't score any points. Our team is really competitive and really strong, and if we are really honest with ourselves we know that in the beginning of the season we were doing everything we could to do good but had a lot of bad luck. I got involved in two incidents and we left a lot of points that we could have scored at those races, and it's tough to get those points back. But over the last six or seven races we've been scoring points, being consistent and we're always in the top five or six, so I think we're demonstrating that the team is where it needs to be right now. I'm also really happy with the package that we have. The Reynard chassis and the Ford engine have been great, and they have given us every little bit that we need to be competitive in this series."
HOW HARD WERE THE FIRST FEW RACES OF THE SEASON FOR YOU?
"Actually, they were not hard because we were competitive. At Long Beach we were fast during practice and I was really happy to see that. Then I wasn't able to qualify in the fast group because I didn't finish in Mexico after we were running fourth. So I qualified 11th and was in the wrong place at the start and got punted from behind by Paul [Tracy]. Then we went to Nazareth and the same thing happened; I was punted from behind by Gil [de Ferran] and it went on and on. It was tough. Now we're qualifying pretty well and even though we're not in the top 12 in the points, we're still qualifying in the fast group for every race and that's a good thing for us. We know we have a fast car, and if we can qualify in the fast group like we have been, we can be at the front all the time."
BUT IT HAD TO BE FRUSTRATING AS A DRIVER TO KNOW THAT YOU'RE FAST BUT YOU CAN'T REAP THOSE BENEFITS.
"Yeah, it was. We wanted to start the season like we did last year. The first four races a year ago were very good for us; I led in Homestead, I finished fourth in Long Beach and I was on pole in Brazil. Even though we didn't win or make it onto the podium, we were still fifth in the championship because we scored points. This year we wanted to start like because we had an even more competitive car, but we made some mistakes and things didn't work out like we had hoped. The only thing we need to do is to stay fifth or sixth in the championship, remain consistent, and wait for people to make mistakes and things will work out. We didn't have that in the first five or six races of this season and it cost us a lot of points. But it's still open in the championship, and I don't think anybody's going to run away with it at this stage. I would say that there's a very small margin of error if you want to win it, so if we continue to do what we're doing we have a good chance to be very competitive in the end."
CAN YOU IDENTIFY A TURNING POINT THIS SEASON WHERE YOUR FORTUNES AND THOSE OF THE TEAM BEGAN TO IMPROVE?
"Everybody is trying to find out if there's something that we changed in our team; actually there's not. It's the same people and the same guys every weekend, but we've just had more luck. It's a big circle. You go out and you have one mechanical problem in the first race so you qualify in the slow group the next time out. Now you're behind in the points because you didn't qualify well and are more in trouble at the start of the race. Then you don't score enough points because you're getting knocked out of races by other people or there's another mechanical failure. You know every race you pay for what happened in the first race of the season. If we would've finished the race at Mexico in fourth like we were, we would've qualified in the fast group at Long Beach. And with the car that we had there, who knows? We might've been on the front row instead of getting involved in a crash because we got punted by somebody and things could've been completely different. The same thing happened in Nazareth. I was running in fifth or sixth and we were doing a good job and then I got punted, so we didn't score points again. And when you don't score points in the first three or four races, you've got to get those points back, and until you do that it's really hard. So what happened is that the car is still competitive and we had to qualify once in the fast group. Now our qualifying is much better and we've been in the fast group for some time now even though we're not in the top 12 in points."
HOW MUCH DIFFERENT HAS YOUR SECOND SEASON BEEN FOR YOU AS COMPARED TO YOUR ROOKIE SEASON?
"I think I've been more consistent. I already have a podium finish in Toronto and I didn't have any last year. I also had a lot of DNF's last year. Right now there's eight races left, but if I can finish those eight races I think I will score a lot more points than last year and I think I'll finish well in the championship."
DO YOU THINK YOU'VE CHANGED AT ALL AS A DRIVER?
"Actually, no. I'm just doing everything the same, but I'm more experienced with the car. Last year I was really finding myself and what I like about the car and what I don't like with the set up. Now I pretty much know what I like about the car and if it doesn't feel right I can say that it's not right. I think I'm much more aggressive in making changes, and the way it's going I'm exactly where I wanted to be in the car, with my crew, with the team and I feel pretty good."
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT HAS NOTICED A BIG CHANGE IN YOU FROM LAST YEAR. YOU'RE A PRETTY EMOTIONAL GUY, BUT HE BELIEVES THAT YOU'VE DONE A MUCH BETTER JOB OF CHANNELING THAT EMOTION INTO SOMETHING THAT'S POSITIVE.
"Yeah, you're right. Last year I was really looking for my first win and I wanted to win so badly. I came into this series as a new driver and I wanted to prove that I could win. I was focusing so much on trying to win that I lost my perspective on the big picture. I didn't have a very open mind and I didn't see that sometimes finishing races is more important in this series, but I see that now this year. Now I think I do a better job of keeping my cool. For example, I don't get as emotional when things are not going well, and that's why I can come back really strong in the race if we don't qualify well. I'm still disappointed, but I can rebound and come back to the front. Sometimes it requires a lot of work, but I never give up. I know that I have the car and I know that it's consistent, so I have much more confidence in the car and I'm not as disappointed if something bad happens."
IT REALLY SOUNDS LIKE YOU'VE REALLY GAINED MORE CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF AND IN THE TEAM.
"Yeah, I think so. Last year we were not very consistent on the road courses. Sometimes the car was good and sometimes the car was very bad, so we had to approach every weekend not knowing how we were going to do in the first practice. But this year the confidence in the team, the car, the driver and the engineers is much higher. When you prove that you're one of the top teams, you know that if there's a problem you're not looking bad. Everybody is confident that we can find the problem and fix it and we don't get easily discouraged anymore. Last year we knew that we had no consistency at the racetrack and we all got disappointed easily. This year, although we've started slowly at some tracks, we have the personnel and the car to turn the weekend into a successful one."
YOU'VE LEARNED TO DO A GOOD JOB OF CONTROLLING YOUR EMOTIONS AND KNOWINIG WHEN TO PUSH.
"Yeah, and the guys that work on my car all get along pretty well. The crew chief that I have this year keeps the team very attached, and it's very important that he continues to do that. It's a very emotional season and it's a very emotional sport because there's a lot of work involved. You can spend four days at the racetrack working really hard and all your expectations can fly out the window in one lap. But there's another 19 or 20 races still to go and that's why it's important that the people we have know that they can count on each other. I can count on my guys and they know that on the track I'm doing everything I can. I know that in the garage they do everything that they can and this confidence builds up and we have developed a good relationship. We spend more time together than we do with our own families I think, and that's why it's important to be close. We have that chemistry right now and that's why the team really has the mindset to be very successful."
A LOT WAS MADE DURING THE OFFSEASON ABOUT THE ADDITIONS OF BRUCE ASHMORE AND TONY CICALE. HOW BIG A ROLE HAVE THEY PLAYED IN YOUR SUCCESS THIS SEASON?
"A pretty big role. I would say that Bruce is really focusing all the energy of the engineers into developing the car in the proper direction. You can have engineers that develop the car, but sometimes they spend too much time on one thing and that effort is not buying us any time on the track. He's trying to focus the team on making developments that will help us on the track without wasting time. Without any testing it's really difficult, and the season becomes a test for the team. Tony, as well as Kelly [Loewen], who was my engineer from Atlantics, has been working with me and the car during the sessions, and I think we've really developed a good relationship. I needed a guy like Tony to bring some experience to Kelly and me because we haven't been around this series too long."
WHAT SPECIFICALLY HAS TONY BROUGHT TO THE TABLE TO HELP YOU?
"He's been in CART for so long and has been with good teams, like Team Green, in the past and so he has a lot of experience. He has helped me to go in the direction of a set up that is right for me, and has helped me to develop a strategy for the weekend. Sometimes we sit out for half an hour and we wait, while last year I would be out there burning tires. Then when we needed good tires we wouldn't have them to do a good lap, so he's really looking at our overall strategy for the weekend."
WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR GOALS FOR THIS SEASON? ARE THEY STILL ATTAINABLE?
"Yeah, I think so. I wanted to be in the top five in the points, really. Top three would be fantastic, but I would like to be in the top five. I also wanted to be consistent this year. I wanted to score points at every race, and the first six races were really, really terrible for us. Seeing my name at the bottom of the championship standings was a big disappointment, but at the same time I knew that we were going to come back. I believed that the car was fast enough for us to come back and score points, and that's exactly what we've done in the last couple of races. I want to continue in that direction so I can finish in the top five at the end of the season."
NOW THAT YOU'VE DEVELOPED SOME CONSISTENCY, DO FEEL ANY ADDED PRESSURE TO KEEP IT UP?
"Not pressure, but when you have such a good result every weekend and you're consistent, I think you forget about the fact there's a possibility that we might not finish the race. And if that were to happen, we'd be really disappointed. When you're there, you need to stay there. When you're at the bottom, it can't get any worse; it can only get better, so you work, work, work and focus on improving. But right now, if we go down we're going to be disappointed, so we need to work and remain focused and continue to do what we're doing to stay on top."