Open-wheel pro to make his fifth start in the series
Alex Tagliani, the IndyCar driver, will be behind the wheel of the No. 22 Discount Tire Mustang for Team Penske in this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America. Tagliani, who has four career NNS starts, including three on the road course in Montreal, has a career best finish of second (Montreal in 2011) and won the pole in Montreal in 2012. He spoke with Ford Racing about this weekend’s race and his dream of having the same Mustang GT500 that appeared in the 2000 version of the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY YOU HAVE THIS WEEKEND? “For some reason I’ve always been attracted to running in the Nationwide Series. Every time my scheduled opens up I bring my finger all the way down to the Nationwide road course races to see if I’m available. The first time I got an opportunity with Roger and the whole Penske organization was driving the 12 car and I came up a little short behind Marcos Ambrose in 2001 when I finished second in Montreal. In 2012 I put myself in position to win it (in Montreal) and I got taken out with six laps to go. I’ve always been competitive somehow, but I told the guys that this opportunity for me is like my Indy 500. I’ve always been a fan of Team Penske. The 22 car is an iconic car and it’s not every day that you can get a phone call from Roger and the whole team to jump in one of their cars, and on top of that you have to make sure that Hertz and Ford Racing want you in the car as well, so for me it’s a big honor to drive this particular car.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER WON THIS RACE FOR TEAM PENSKE A YEAR AGO. DO YOU FEEL ANY ADDED PRESSURE TO DUPLICATE THAT THIS WEEKEND? “No, I don’t look at it that way. I always try to approach the races in such a way where I’m going there to win. I’m preparing to win and I’m doing everything in my power to win. I have a team that is helping me tremendously to achieve that, but the only thing you can do is really try to put yourself in that sort of position. You never count your chickens before they hatch even though you’re in a very good car and you have all the chance in the world to win the race. And I also approach the race with a lot of respect for my competitors. This is a very competitive series. The guys there are very strong and they’re used to it. For me, I went to test at VIR with the guys, and I always feel like when I leave the track and I drive to the airport that I could have done better. I don’t think it comes as natural to me to drive a NASCAR stock car. Obviously, being on the road course is an advantage, but I always have great respect for the other guys I’m gonna race against. It makes me stay on my toes and push the edge, so if we come out of there and win, that’s what we came for but everybody else is trying to do the same. Just the fact that we can put ourselves in position, that’s the only thing we can ask for and then we’ll see how the race unfolds.”
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA RAN THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP RACE AT MICHIGAN LAST WEEKEND AND HE WAS ASKED ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM OPEN WHEEL TO STOCK CARS. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RUNNING AN OPEN WHEEL CAR AT ROAD AMERICA AND A STOCK CAR? “For a guy that drove open wheel all his career, when you jump into a stock car the best way of explaining it is every single lap, every single corner you have to fight your mind. You have to fight yourself from wanting to do something that the car won’t do. It’s really important that you keep that in mind and you mentally fight yourself constantly when you’re driving because it’s so easy to get caught up in overdriving. You believe you should be braking at one point, but the car won’t do it. You should be rolling this much speed, but the car won’t take it, so the whole art of driving a NASCAR stock car is to push it to its limit without overdriving it and extracting every tenth of a second without losing time. You don’t want to be spectacular and slow. You want to be spectacular but be fast and there’s a balance there where you’re flirting with pushing it but you can’t overdrive it. I think a NASCAR driver who has been evolving in NASCAR forever has only seen that limit, so for him it becomes very natural to push the limit and just work with it constantly. But for someone that has seen the limit be further, it’s a constant battle in your mind to just back yourself up. If you can do that, I think you can extract the best out of the car and you can be very fast, but that’s basically the challenge.”
THIS WILL BE YOUR FIRST TIME DRIVING A NASCAR MUSTANG, BUT YOU HAVE A 2004 PRODUCTION MODEL, CORRECT? “It’s funny because when I saw Team Penske was going to Ford Racing and in Nationwide they were going to run the Ford Mustang, I remember in the day when I was driving for Ford in Indy Car and I actually won at Road America in a Ford-powered car, so I got myself a Mustang for my personal car. I’ve always liked that Shelby GT 500 they called Eleanor that was in the movie ‘Gone in 60 Seconds.’ I’ve always really liked that car, but it’s a pretty expensive car. I couldn’t afford to get a ’67 Mustang fastback and get it all built like the one in the movie, so I searched the internet and thought if I bought a silver Mustang and put a black vinyl stripe on it, I could make it look like that. So my goal was to take a Mustang from today and make it look as close as I could from that version because I really liked it, but I didn’t have the money to spend on trying to replicate that GT 500. Basically, I got my version of Eleanor my way and now I’m driving a Ford Mustang at Road America where I’ve already won in a Ford-powered car, so I’m really excited about getting a chance to race this NASCAR Mustang this weekend.”
YOUR NEXT PROJECT, HOWEVER, IS TO TRY AND REPLICATE A ’67 MUSTANG FASTBACK? “My buddy has a custom shop, so I spoke to him at Indianapolis this year and told him I would really like to find a ’67 Mustang fastback and try to find kits and make it look pretty much identical to the Shelby GT 500 that was in the movie. I’m going the route of a custom shop because I can’t invest $1 million to get a car like that, but if I can get it done for something I can afford, I’d like to try and do it. That’s my next project. I know there are a ton of Ford parts that exist to build a car like that, so I’m really looking forward to it. Obviously, the base and the chassis of the car will be a Ford ’67 Fastback, so everything that is chassis and mechanical parts will be Ford Performance Parts. Hopefully, by the time we race at Road America next year, that project will be done and I can bring it to the track because I’d like to continue driving the road courses for Team Penske.”