Alex Tagliani hasn’t had the month of May he envisioned when partnering with A.J. Foyt Racing.
Despite that, the goal remains the same – to win the Indianapolis 500.
“Winning is everything,” Tagliani told Popular Open Wheel. “I want to win this race, and I think we’ve had enough problems and issues this week, we need a break. Our car is under the radar. It could be very fast; it only needs a bit of balance. These wiggles in qualifying and loose moments, they have to go away.”
So far, though, the results have been disappointing. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw him finish 23rd following handling issues.
“We were super competitive, but we had issues on the first run – blew tire pressure through the roof and did an early pit stop so (Simon) Pagenaud put us a lap down,” he said. “We had a chance to get a lap back – right behind Ryan Hunter-Reay, and then instead of staying on track to get the wave by, we came into pit. Then Will Power stuck himself between Hunter-Reay and us, so we never got the wave around, and lost another lap.
“But lap times were competitive. I think we had ninth-fastest lap time of the race, quicker than the other two team cars in the race by almost half a second.”
Then last weekend, he crashed during Indianapolis 500 practice, meaning he’ll start last in the 33-car field.
“The wiggle in turn four – it was unexpected,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to have a wiggle like that, especially when we have a tail wind and I was expecting the car to push out. It’s just one of those things where it’s sad because we had speed in that car, and never had a chance to show it because of always some small things happening over the course of the week. We went for it, and I think we could’ve been a little more conservative on our approach considering the conditions were really bad. But hats off to our crew that wanted to be in the top-10, and we thought we had the speed to do that.”
Tagliani says the incident came as a result of putting it on the edge a little too much, looking to post the quick lap time, versus a conservative lap time. He figures they’ve solved the problems, though, as looking over the data on Tuesday, the engineers found something that didn’t look right so it may solve their problem in the search for stability.
He knows what it takes to do well in Indianapolis as he was the Rookie of the Race in 2009, and won the pole in 2011. His best finish in seven starts, though, is a 10th in 2010. With those accomplishments in the rearview, Tagliani says it’s not about the small moments now, but rather the big prize. If he won another pole, he said he’d quickly trade it for a win, as would any driver.
Tagliani isn’t ready to give up on this year’s race yet. He still likes his chances, especially after watching Juan Pablo Montoya drive through the field on his way to victory after a pit stop problem last year.
“It’s a type of race that you don’t throw in the towel, never give up,” he said. “You have to believe that this could be your race, and again, I’m just saying that as soon as I drive the car on carb day, and I feel it’s competitive, then it’s like get out of my way. That’s the way you need to approach the race really and hope to have a bit of luck. If you’re in the back, and you get unlucky with a yellow, then you’re in the back, so you never have a chance to leapfrog people.”
It’s the third straight year Tagliani has joined a team to run Indianapolis, versus running the full schedule as he had done the four years prior. The challenge presented in competing against teams that have been together for a year or more is daunting in being comfortable.
“I think the challenge is enormous, and people underestimate how important it is going to Indy, because at Indy, you have no margin for error,” he said. “Indy is all about details and looking at the telemetry, looking at tire pressure, looking at the variation of weight jacker – and everything becomes relevant to go fast. Also, then when you’re not fast, it’s one out of 100 things and you have to find it. So when you have a group that works together, mechanics that work full-time on the car, and have everything – it makes it easy.”
Tagliani pointed to championship leader Simon Pagenaud as an example. The Frenchman went from an uncomfortable rookie year at Team Penske, which saw him post just two podium finishes, to having three wins and two runner-up finishes in the first five races in of 2016.
But the Canadian looks forward to the challenge, saying as long as his team takes care of what they can control, they should have a good performance Sunday.
“I think it only takes one small detail to make the car more even, and all that you’re trying is not to reinvent the wheel, but stay in that window and just don’t deviate from that window the whole race,” he added. “So keeping the tire pressure under control and don’t make any mistakes in the pits. We may not have the fast pit stop, but as long as we don’t make any mistakes, we’ll be better than those that are making mistakes. If you continue to go that route, it could be a good day for us.”
While he enjoys the situation he’s in, the chance at running the full schedule once again is something he’d like to do.
“I would love it, but there’s part of me that doesn’t want to become desperate and looking for money left and right to dump money into the team to go racing,” he said. “I’m tired of doing it. Even if I don’t do IndyCar and just do NASCAR, I want to enjoy it. I want to enjoy driving the car and not being like with a gun to the side of my head all the time.”
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