Tagliani has perfect opportunity to impress at Fontana

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Alex Tagliani’s open wheel career has been on hiatus since late summer when Bryn Herta Autosport decided to go in a different direction and he was left out in the cold. He since has driven for AIM Autosport in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series the finsh out the final three rounds of that series, where he scored a pole for the team in his first time out.

Tagliani has been in this position before. After the absorption of Champ Car by the then titled Indy Racing League, Tagliani’s team Rocketsports did not make the transition over and Tagliani was out of a ride. Landing a ride was tough because at the same time drivers had long relationships with teams that they were with. Later in the season Tagliani was tabbed to replace the injured Enrique Bernoldi at Conquest Racing in Detroit and he finished out the season for the team finishing 21st at Detroit and 12th at Chicago.

At the non points race at Surfer’s Paradise, Tagliani qualified in 7th place and fought with Ryan Hunter-Reay for 3rd place for much of the day and had it not been for a bad pit stop would have challenged for the last step on the podium. He finished 4th that day, and facing the fact that he did not have very much experience driving in the Dallara-Honda style cars, his run was impressive.

The next season he ran just 6 races for Conquest, but pulled of an impressive drive at Toronto, making the Firestone Fast Six and inherited the lead while o n a different pit strategy on lap 48 and began walking away form the field until a caution on lap 59 forced him to come in for his final pit stop under yellow and put him back in the pack. He finished 9th that day and come next season he landed a full time ride with the FAZZT team, which he helped form and in the team’s debut race, he qualified in 2nd place at Sao Paulo.

Last season is where Taglaini impressed the most. The first few races of the season were hampered by the underpowered Lotus engine that hurt every team that signed with it. Bryan Herta Autosport managed to secure a deal with Honda and elected to skip the Sao Paulo race to prepare for the Indianapolis 500. The costs involved with switching to Honda prevented the team from testing for the rest of the season, and Bryan Herta Autosport being a one car team without the big budget of Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing, the odds were against him and his team.

Despite this, the switch to Honda showed the talent within for Tagliani. At the Indianapolis 500, Taglaini qualified 11th the second fastest Honda and picked his way to the lead by lap 45. On the first round of pitstops, a glitch in his car’s pit speed limiter which was still set to the Lotus RPM range made him speed on pit road which put him a lap down. Despite this, Tagliani got the lap back and finished in 12th place. The next race out with Detroit, Tagliani qualified in 3rd place, which he partly had Lotus to thank for that.

During the Lotus tenure (if you can even call it that), Lead Engineer Todd Malloy focused on getting the car set up good by way of chassis setup to make up for the lack of speed.

The rest of the season was highlighted by a pole at Texas and making all but two Firestone Fast Sixs and had Edmonton and Fontana in the bag as far as winning those two races. Edmonton he led more than half the race but a bad pit stop left him finishing in 5th place, and Fontana Taglaini drove thru the field and led several laps during the latter stages of the race and was fighting for the lead when his Honda powerplant expired with 20 laps to go.

Considering that Bryan Herta Autosport was and is a 1 car team and didn’t test for the rest of the season and to have Tagliani pull off the results that he did is worth taking a look at. He managed to keep the car out of trouble when the team couldn’t afford it and his 17th place finish in the standings may not seem that spendid, consider the fact that the team missed a race and the first 4 races of the season were no shows because of the Lotus, Taglaini would have finished much higher up in the standings had he not had those two gaffes.

Malloy also spoke of Tagliani’s car control skills at the end of last season in an interview with The Globe and Mail:

“He has got probably the best car control I have ever seen and don’t underestimate that,” he said.

“We didn’t have a lot of money this year and had we shunted a car at any point, it would have been a problem for us. I have never seen someone drive knowing that was the case like Alex did.”

“The four laps in qualifying at Indy were phenomenal – you have no idea – he should have crashed many times. I have never been so scared in my life.”

That all being said, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing this upcoming weekend at Fontana, a track that changes as the night wears on and is really tricky to drive, which suits Taglaini’s car control skills is a good chance for Tagliani to show what he is made of. When he needed to deliver in 2008/09 to get back to IndyCar full time, he did and that was driving for a Conquest Racing which was a shoestring budget team.

Now with a championship contending car underneath him, he can easily run competitive next weekend and potentially turn some heads to get back where he needs to be, behind the wheel of an IndyCar.

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