This Week in Ford Racing October 15, 2002 CART FedEx Championship Alex Tagliani, driver of the ...
This Week in Ford Racing
October 15, 2002
CART FedEx Championship
Alex Tagliani, driver of the #33 Player's/Forsythe Ford, has enjoyed his best CART season to date with four top-five finishes, including podium appearances at Motegi and Road America, nine top-10 finishes and 95 championship points, which puts him seventh in the standings with three races remaining. As the CART FedEx Championship Series prepares for its upcoming race in Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast of Australia, Tagliani, who finished third a year ago, talks about the challenges the temporary street circuit presents and reflects on how his season has gone to this point.
ALEX TAGLIANI - #33 Player's/Forsythe Ford
WHAT DO TEAMS AND DRIVERS NEED TO DO TO SCORE A GOOD FINISH IN AUSTRALIA? STARTING UP FRONT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER IN CART THESE DAYS, BUT IS SURFER'S PARADISE A PLACE WHERE YOU HAVE TO QUALIFY AT THE FRONT IN ORDER TO FINISH WELL? "Last year I started seventh and finished third so I passed two or three guys and one didn't finish the race so that got us another position. I mean, it's possible to pass, but it's just really, really difficult. I guess you need to see what kind of car you have. If it's capable of running fast lap times and somebody in front of you is slowing down then it gives you an indication that you might attempt a pass. But I think the thing we need to remember is that there are no miracles we can do in CART. The cars are getting closer and closer to each other and if you have a good car you can pass, but if you have a bad car you can't pass and it's going to be difficult just to keep your car on the track. I cannot predict what's going to happen, to be honest. I know there's a lot of things that are changing on our car right now, so we just need to wait and see what happens during the first couple of hours on the track on the car and then we can see where we stand."
DOES THIS TRACK PRESENT ANY PARTICULAR CHALLENGES TO YOU AND THE CREW IN TRYING TO COME UP WITH AN IDEAL SETUP? "There's a lot of different things on the track ... first of all you need a lot of grip. Obviously, it's a street course and it'll never be as 'grippy' as a permanent road course, but on top of that you need to be able to jump over the curbs quite aggressively. The track is surrounded by many chicanes of different speed and type and I know shocks are very important in our series, but I think they're even more important in Australia. You can get off track and hit the wall very quickly because the curbs are very, very high and steep so that's a big problem. You also need to have very quick transitions with the car because if you get too soft and sloppy the car doesn't react properly. You have to make a variety of compromises with the car but at the end of the day if your car has a lot of grip on that type of pavement then you have a very good starting point."
YOU RAN STRONG IN AUSTRALIA LAST YEAR AND SCORED A THIRD-PLACE FINISH. HOW IMPORTANT WAS THAT RESULT CONSIDERING WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO YOU IN THE RACES PRECEEDING IT, SPECIFICALLY IN GERMANY? "I thought it was very important and that weekend was very good for me and the team. We finished pretty strongly last year with the podium in Australia and we had the pole in Fontana where we finished, too. It would be good to repeat those results this year because where we are in the standings we can get into the top five and that would be good."
YOU'VE BEEN VOCAL ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS REGARDING THE REYNARD CHASSIS THIS SEASON. HOW DO YOU EXPECT IT TO FARE IN SURFER'S? "Well, we have not been very strong on the street courses this year but Australia is more of an open, longer and quicker street course than normal. Nobody on the team can really understand what happened because last year we had a very good car on the street courses with a pole position in Vancouver and finishing second in Toronto. It's very difficult to understand the problem, but I guess that's been the weak part of our season so far. Hopefully, with the weekend that we had in Miami (fourth) and some new bits that have been added to the car, we'll be able to do better."
THIS IS CERTAINLY ONE OF CART'S MOST SUCCESSFUL RACES IN TERMS OF ATTENDANCE AND CORPORATE SPONSORSHIP. WITH THE ADDITION OF OTHER SUCCESSFUL DOWNTOWN RACES IN DENVER AND MIAMI THIS SEASON, DO YOU FEEL THAT CART NEEDS TO DO MORE OF THESE TYPE OF EVENTS TO ENSURE ITS LONG-TERM SUCCESS? "CART needs to keep doing events like that for sure, but you also can't create an event with a magic wand. I think something we need to keep in mind is that CART needs events that are popular. We can't afford to have events that don't attract anybody into the stands and that's something that CART needs to work on. You know, CART is popular, more popular than people realize, but I think CART was in trouble not because it didn't have any popular events but because of leadership that did not make good decisions in the past."
YOU'VE ALREADY SURPASSED YOUR POINT TOTAL FROM LAST SEASON AND HAVE SCORED MORE TOP-FIVE AND TOP-10 FINISHES THAN YOU DID AT THIS POINT A YEAR AGO. THAT BEING SAID, DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGHT THIS HAS BEEN A SUCCESSFUL SEASON FOR YOU? "On two different levels I'm happy and disappointed. I'm happy because yes, at the beginning of the season it looked like we were going to be a very strong contender as a team and myself as a driver but we, like every other team except Newman/Haas, were not able to be competitive everywhere. The part that I'm disappointed about is that when we were competitive we were not able to maximize the number of points that we could score in a particular weekend and for me that is something that has definitely put us down in the championship standings. Even in the races where we were not competitive we were still finishing and scoring points, and the best example of that is (Michel) Jourdain (Jr.) with Team Rahal. I think the guy has been in the shadows pretty much all season long and has not done anything special, but he managed to stay among the top five or six guys all year long just by finishing races. I think for our team we were competitive in 50 percent of the events but unfortunately we didn't have enough reliability to secure a top-five spot every weekend and in the races where we weren't competitive we just need to push harder. That was the disappointment in my season because realistically we should've been in the top five at this stage of the season without having the pressure of the last three races of scoring a lot of points to make it up."
HOW FRUSTRATING HAS IT BEEN FOR YOU THAT YOU'VE STARTED FROM POLE POSITION, LED RACES AND SCORED PODIUM FINISHES BUT HAVEN'T CAPTURED THAT ELUSIVE FIRST WIN YET? "It's difficult to explain how frustrating it is. I've done pretty much everything I needed to do in racing (to win a race). I've had the chance to qualify on pole, to lead races, to exchange the lead, to stay in the lead for the whole race, to pass people and to be in a position where pit stops were critical. I've been in all different types of situations in my career but have been unable to score that win and it is frustrating. Yeah, at a certain point in my life I was saying to myself, 'What do I have to do to win a race?' But I realized that there's really nothing I can do or push myself to do or try to do differently because that's when everything will go wrong and I don't want to start to do that. I just need to keep working hard and keep doing what I'm able to do and I think it's going to happen. It's not something that you can expect to happen every weekend because there's a lot of factors in place that you have to have on your side and I can't control things that I don't have in my power. What I can control is my driving and if I don't have anything to correct or change when I am in the lead then I shouldn't be ashamed and just continue to wait for the proper time."
YOU'VE DISPLAYED A LOT MORE CONSISTENCY THIS SEASON THAN YOU HAVE IN YOUR PREVIOUS SEASONS BY SCORING POINTS IN EVERY RACE THAT YOU HAVE FINISHED. WHY DO YOU THINK YOU'VE BEEN MORE CONSISTENT THIS YEAR? "At the beginning of the season I told myself that I would not try to go out there and win every race. I want to finish the races and be able to score enough points to have a top-three or top-five finish in the points at the end of the season. My driving, my mentality and everything in my mind was geared toward finishing races and scoring points. Like I said before, I could've finished in the top three or five in some races but I had mechanical problems or didn't finish them, and those are the races that kind of held me back in the championship. I've been really focused on finishing races this year, regardless of circumstances. There've been races where the car was bad and I had a problem with the gearbox or something like that, but I really pushed to try and finish the race to score the most points possible."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THIS YEAR? "I think everybody is learning during every race, but one thing I've learned this year is that CART is more competitive this year than it has been since I started racing here in 2000. Trying to freak out and put pressure on yourself to win a certain amount of events is just not possible. Working very closely with the team and staying focused on the task at hand during the weekend and scoring as many points as possible no matter what is something that I've learned to be the right thing to do. I think I could've scored more points, but being seventh in the points with the problems we've had this season shows me that I have the right attitude and the right approach. Who knows, maybe if I would've tried to push more I would be farther down in the standings than I am right now, so that's what I learned."
WITH 'SILLY SEASON' TALK ABOUT DRIVERS, TEAMS AND SPONSORS, DO YOU THINK THIS WILL BE THE MOST UNSETTLED SEASON FOR CART, AT LEAST SINCE YOU JOINED THE SERIES IN 2000? "Yeah, it is for sure. But it's okay. I believe in CART and I've always believed in CART. Since I was a young kid watching the races on TV, I always thought that CART had the best races out there. It had everything it needed to become a very successful series both within the CART community and with the fan support. CART has all different types of races on different types of tracks and that is very interesting for the drivers and the fans. Even though there is a bit of a 'war' going on in open-wheel racing, I believe CART will always be around."