CHAMPCAR/CART: Alex Tagliani poised to win

Thirty laps from victory in Homestead . . . Six laps from victory in Rio . . . Alex Tagliani's has proved one thing early in his career - he will win, and soon. The 27-year-old native of Lachenaie, Quebec, Canada has impressed many early in...

Thirty laps from victory in Homestead . . .

Six laps from victory in Rio . . .

Alex Tagliani's has proved one thing early in his career - he will win, and soon. The 27-year-old native of Lachenaie, Quebec, Canada has impressed many early in his Champ Car career.

But what was it about Tagliani that stood out in the mind of Neil Mickelwright, Team Player's vice president of operations, that helped him decide on Tagliani?

NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT, vice president, operations, Team Player's - LAST YEAR, YOU HELD A CHAMP CAR TEST TO DETERMINE PATRICK CARPENTIER'S TEAMMATE FOR 2000 AND YOU CHOOSE ALEX. WHAT WAS IT ABOUT ALEX THAT TOLD YOU HE'S THE RIGHT GUY?

"He obviously has a great deal of natural talent but he also has the ability to define what the shortcomings of the car are that he's driving but also to help his engineers understand what they need to do to get the most out of the car. Very rarely is there just one thing wrong with the race car, but quite often there is just one thing stopping you from going to the next level. Alex has the ability to be able to pinpoint what it is that's going to make the car go a little bit faster rather than just tell you to fix all of it. He is quite progressive in the things that he does and knows the things that he needs to get fixed first. His feedback and his relationship is second to none and his commitment to the job at hand is probably the strongest I have ever seen."

IT'S SAID THAT CERTAIN DRIVERS ARE MORE SUITED DRIVING A CAR WITH A GREAT POWER TO WEIGHT RATIO. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE POWER TO WEIGHT ON AN ATLANTIC CAR VERSUS A CHAMP CAR IS GREAT, BUT ALEX HAS NOT SEEMED TO HAVE MUCH OF A PROBLEM ADJUSTING TO THAT. DO YOU THINK HIS STYLE IS BETTER SUITED FOR CHAMP CARS?

"I think Alex is one of those drivers. I think for him, the more power the better, because he is a driver who uses the power to steer that car. He is a little bit old fashioned in a sense. He came up through karting. He looks to make a car go as quickly as it can and use all the tools to do it. The engine isn't just there to just go fast on the straights. He uses the engine probably more than some drivers to setup the car. He is very sensitive to the engine and what it's doing and how it can help him get the most out of the chassis."

ARE YOU CONCERNED OF THE AGGRESSIVENESS ALEX HAS SHOWN IN HIS DRIVING STYLE THIS EARLY ON IN HIS CHAMP CAR CAREER?

"I'd rather be trying to tame him rather than motivate him. He is aggressive but I haven't seen him be overly aggressive yet. He knows what he is capable of and he is determined to the best he can. As he matures a bit I think he will tame himself maybe a little. But at this point in time, I think he is right on track for what I think he is achieving."

IN A FEW WORDS, DESCRIBE ALEX . .

"Bad fast."

ALEX TAGLIANI -33- Team Player's Ford-Cosworth -- ARE YOU SURPRISED HOW QUICKLY YOU HAVE FOUND YOURSELF UP FRONT CONTENDING FOR THE WIN? "A little bit.

I was not expecting to be fighting for first place as much as we have. But we will have some hard time there's no doubt about it. There are still a lot of things I need to learn. Right now, everything is going well. But the experience will probably come into play when we struggle and we will need to find something. It won't be easy all the time. I still worry all the time that I will be slow. I think that's a good attitude to have though. It makes me work harder because I don't know if I am going to be fast all the time."

IS BEING SLOW WHAT YOU ARE MOST AFRAID OF?

"I don't like to be slow. I don't know if it's a fear, but I don't like it. I can't live with that."

HOW MUCH OF A CONFIDENCE BOOST HAS THE SUCCESS YOU HAVE HAD OVER THE PAST FEW RACES BEEN FOR YOU?

"A little bit. It's more about being happy with my driving. It's nice to be competitive. Everyone is talking about how competitive Champ Car racing is. You never know where you are going to be at the start of the weekend. I look at my relationship with my engineer Alex Timmermans and I look at what kind of package we are running right now, which the credit for those decisions goes to what, the team's father Mr. Micklewright, did during the winter. We could have been on a different kind of package and struggled, but right now we have the best one out there. It's a good combination and it makes it a little easier on the drivers. We can show that we are fast because everything is in place for us to be fast. Everything is working properly for us right now."

ONE OF THE ATTRIBUTES THAT NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT PRAISES YOU FOR IS YOUR ABILITY TO INTERACT WITH YOUR ENGINEERS. DO YOU WORK AS HARD ON THE COMMUNICATION END OF YOUR RACING AS YOU DO ON THE DRIVING END?

"I try to do both. I try to be as precise as you can. I seem to have a pretty good feeling of what's going on the track. Since I am visiting a lot of these tracks for the first time this year. There is a lot I need to learn. The only think I can do right now is focus on feeling what the car is doing. Next year, when I have gone to all of the tracks, I will have a better understanding of how the track works, how is changes and that will help me even more, but for now, I can only concentrate on what the car is doing. It's hard for me to tell my engineers what is going to happen next. This will come with experience."

DO YOU FEEL YOUR DRIVING STYLE IS BETTER SUITED TO DRIVING CARS WITH GREATER POWER TO WEIGHT RATIOS LIKE CHAMP CARS?

"I think so. In Atlantic's we were a little bit limited in the technical aspect of putting your driving style down in application with the changes we can do on the engine in the car. Right now we have the best engine on the track. But we also have the engineers who are working with us very closely and who are also to give us and work with us with what we feel. The fact that we have a lot of horsepower helps because on road courses it's all about having the horsepower and being able to put it down. If you are a driver who is able to save fuel, the Ford engineers are going to give you more fuel during the race and they will work closely with the team engineers to develop a strategy that is more aggressive than conservative. So, I think Champ Car racing allows drivers to be more technical."

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT ALEX TAGLIANI . . .

MICHAEL ANDRETTI -6- Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford-Cosworth - "Alex has done a real good job so far. He came real close to winning his first time out and has shown he knows what he's doing. He'll get that first win soon."

KENNY BRACK -8- Shell Ford-Cosworth - ON BATTLING TAGLIANI FOR THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR TITLE . . ." Alex and I have had some good battles already this season. Not too bad for a couple of CART rookies."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Tagliani , Alex T