Despite starting off the season on a rough note, Alex Tagliani rebounded with two wins and 10 top-10’s to finish second in the year-end standings. Recently, the 22 Racing driver broke down his season and more in an exclusive interview with POPULAR SPEED.
POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on the season?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I would say that I’m pretty happy. I would say that in general, we had a great season because when we started the year at Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) for the first round, leading the race with three to go and we had a mechanical issue. We had another mechanical issue that we discovered afterwards after the round at (Autodrome) Chaudiere. So two rounds together, and boom, right away we’re behind quite a bit unfortunately. We fought back literally the whole year, almost, to get where we should’ve been from the get-go.
Nether the less, I think the season was really strong, somehow consistent with regards to performance, podiums, and things like that. So in general, I’m very happy with the season. The team did a beautiful job on the car and with the sponsors, and winning two in a row at GP3R (Grand Prix of Trois Riveres). It’s tough to win one; two in a row was pretty cool. We were on pole at (the Pinty’s Grand Prix in) Toronto, and believe it or not, we won Mosport. In all those years that I’ve been racing, we’ve been super strong there, but somehow a ton of bad luck to a point it was a joke internally with the team that the track owed us many races. Finally after a couple of years of always being there, we got the win and it came at the second round, because the first round again we were in the lead, and something happened, and the guys were quite sad. That’s why I saw some tears in Matt, and the excitement of Tyler (Case) and all the boys because somehow Mosport, for us, have always been afraid to go there for fear of something else happening so we always approached the race with a lot of fear.
So that being said, I think on some points, I wish I would’ve been stronger myself, personally. The race in Toronto, I think that one I felt I left the door open; I didn’t close the door too much. I think Andrew (Ranger) did a good move, but I left some points on the table there. So that’s a race that I think that we didn’t have in the bag, but a race we should’ve come out with more points looking back.
I think, at the end of the year, what was fairly significant in winning the championship or not was our race at New Hampshire (Motor Speedway) and Jukasa (Motor Speedway). New Hampshire, we had been in the top-three the whole day on Friday so very competitive, really strong. So we were doing really well, and I think the tire pressure and a few items on the car got away from us, and we paid the price from not being as competitive as what we should’ve had. Jukasa – again, we were very competitive in the first race there. We had a really good car; we had a podium finish there and were strong. We went there with high hopes; I think we were fairly strong all practice long. We normally have a good car on the long run with the team, and again, something happened, a bit of bad luck, and we couldn’t capitalize on how good the car was.
I felt like maybe the championship slipped between our fingers because of those two rounds, and the bad luck at Mosport and Chaudiere. The rest of the year, other than maybe not capitalizing on the Toronto Indy by not winning which is on me, I felt we capitalized pretty much everywhere. So very content, very happy with everyone. That’s why overall, I give ourselves a pretty high score and finishing second in points is very good. Thumbs up to everybody at 22 Racing for coming back after those two races to fight for a championship, and finally win Mosport. So it gives us lots of positivity for next season with what we accomplished compared to where we are. It now just requires fine tuning, and improving a few small things, but overall, if you capitalize on the season like we have next year, we’ll be there right again.
PS: You mentioned New Hampshire. What are your thoughts in seeing the series head south of the border for the first time?
ALEX: Well, I think it was nice that we went there. If we would have a track of that size in Canada, I think everybody would love it and enjoy it, but we don’t. I think the chance for the competitors, the NASCAR Canada fans to see the cars at high speed, perform, going sideways – I think we’re giving them the chance to see the performance of our cars at another level, which is quite nice. I think it was also nice because the way the promoter organized the whole event mixing a couple different series together to make it quite interesting, and a nice format. I think the autograph line says it all. It was amazing to see all the fans in line to try and get every driver of every series.
I think, overall, the racing in itself was good for a series, and it was good also because we were able to race on another track and our fans from Canada had a chance to come. I seen a lot of people from Quebec down there, and that was quite nice. So because of all of this, I thought it was a successful event and sometimes we need new things to re-create excitement. Everybody was really pumped up to have a chance to put our car on a bigger size track like that.
PS: What is it about you and Tyler Case that just makes things seem like they click flawlessly?
ALEX: I think Tyler is a guy that really wants to win, like everybody else, but I think he has this desire of always finding the edge and trying to get everything perfect. With my background coming from big teams with either NASCAR when I raced for (Team) Penske or IndyCar, there’s a ton of research, ton of analyzing driver, tracks, tires, temperatures, and what I like about Tyler is he’s always basically open to work with the driver on how we can make the car better. How can we improve on this? What we can do at Toronto to make the car better? What can we do at Mosport? What can we do at Three Rivers? This to me is something that I really respect.
I think Scott (Steckly) is also a guy that you have to respect in that approach, because he’s a leader and he’s allowing the crew to follow a little bit of their own philosophy. I like that because I really think that shows a lot of character in a team or a person. When you have had the success that we’ve had at Mosport, Three Rivers, Toronto – it’s quite easy for someone to take the approach, “Oh we were on pole last year; let’s go with the same car. Oh, we won the race last year, so let’s bring the same car.” It’s quite easy to settle in and say that. But, to me that I really appreciate from Tyler is he never takes for granted the fact the competition in NASCAR is going to continue to rise, continue to grow, the teams are bigger and better, and there are a ton of drivers that are competitive and capable of winning races. So if drivers pushing the limit to perform against other drivers, I think it should be the same thing for crew, crew chiefs, owners, and I think that’s what we have within the team. We need this.
The approach of 2019 – this is something that I am going to be looking for in working with Tyler and Scott and everybody else, because I don’t think everybody is going to go home and just park their car in the garage and take them out at the beginning of the 2019. I think they’re going to work all winter long in 2018 and 2019, and then we show up, we’re going to realize there’s lots of performance and mentally, you need to be prepared. Also, there’s all kinds of ways to skin the cat. There’s trying to get a car that is fast on one lap, and there’s trying to get a car that is really fast over the course of the case, and Tyler has been really good with me on communication and reading what the driver is feeling and how we can approach it. I think the combination is quite good because I don’t want to make a suggestion and the crew chief say, “Well, you don’t need that because we were on pole last year.” I want a crew chief that is willing to be open-minded and say, “Alright, let’s analyze this,” and that’s how we can push ourselves to get better, stronger, and hopefully that’s what’s going to take us to another level.
PS: Speaking of 22 Racing, how closely do you and Marc-Antoine Camirand work as teammates?
ALEX: The three guys (Tagliani, Camirand, and Donald Theetge), I think we work really well together this year. We were exchanging feedback on what we felt in our car, and what we think the car has. So at some point when we were approaching Mosport, for example, I remember that we tried two different things on two different cars and then we met after practice. It was really important because sometimes the weather doesn’t allow us to really capitalize on doing a qualifying run. I think we didn’t even qualify there, so it was really important to make the right choice for the race so we worked together on it, and we did. I think it worked well; we had a really good car.
Again, the team is really important because the cars are quite close to each other and sometimes there’s little differences, but overall, I think they build really good cars close. So we’ve been able to get close enough to share feedback and it’s been serving us well for the team’s performance in general.
PS: You’ve ran a couple XFINITY and truck races here and there. Anything in cards for that next year?
ALEX: I had the opportunity to do it, but it was clashing with GP3R and it was clashing with Mosport. I chose, in comparison to previous years, I chose to prioritize our season for the first time since I joined the series. It paid off in rewarding the crew by putting all the emphasis on them, and putting priority on our season was a mark of respect to everybody on the team. So sometimes it’s quite hard to say no, or to not look at some races that I’d like to do, because I came so close to winning in XFINITY and Truck that I’d like to do it more often. The trucks is quite easy because we’re there the same weekend, but the XFINITY had two clashes and by not going, I won the GP3R race.
I think that I’m always looking to tell you the truth, but I will continue to prioritize my program because I’m very thankful for the sponsors that we have on-board that are supporting us and are there, and I think the crew deserves it also. If the opportunity presents itself and it’s not creating any conflict or heavy workload to make it happen, I will; but other than that, I’m quite content where I am. There’s always an opportunity that presents, but I just have to make sure it doesn’t jeopardize what we’re doing with the NASCAR Canada program because that’s where my focus is at the moment.
In the past, I ran in China, I can in XFINITY, I ran in Truck, I did the Indy 500 for many years and missed the opening round at Mosport, and I don’t want to do that anymore. The team deserves from me to be focused and keep attention on our program.
PS: The Pinty’s Series has so many positives right now. But what is one change you feel they can make to improve the series even more?
ALEX: Well, I mean this question is the most difficult question to answer because I don’t think see one sentence or something small. I look at a series like a car. It’s 100 small little things that will make a good car. If you have a bad car and your set-up is bad, and someone tells you what right front tire pressure you run, and you tell me them x amount and he tells you, “Oh no no, you should run this amount,” because he’s on the pole, right? Well, don’t kid yourself. It’s not because you’re putting the same right front tire pressure of the guy on pole that you’re going to all of sudden make your car a bullet. It’s every small little detail. You can’t just believe that your car is going to be a winning car if you only do one thing; it’s everything. I think it’s the same thing with the series.
It’s all kind of small little things that to their extent are important, and we need to evolve and adapt. I think the world right now has shown interest in stuff that is digital, like reality shows are really popular. Young kids like technology, so you need to improve certain things for engagement with the fans, as potentially everything you show on TV has a reality component, not only racing component, to engage in the demographic that has an interest in those type of TV shows. I think we have lots of positives. We have access to a lot of things, but modeling and customizing our series a little bit to get it in a new direction doesn’t mean we’re bad. It means we need to evolve, change, adapt to the new world.
We’re in 2018 now and I’ve seen a lot of very positive comments this year with the cars, with the new body kit, new extension on the side skirt, new nose, new rear skirt on the rear bumper. People have enjoyed to see our cars low to the ground and the updated look of our cars. That was one small change, but it’s not enough; we need more new stuff, and we need to also balance it with being cost effective at the same time. Overall, I would say everybody has really good ideas when we meet with people – owners, drivers. Everybody has good points. I think when you take everybody together and put them around a table and you look into what people need from an owner’s standpoint, driver’s standpoint, marketing standpoint, sponsorship standpoint – if we all put our heads down and bring suggestions before our governing body, that’s how we can potentially a better series in the future. I don’t have all the answers to your question, and I don’t have the truth on everything, but I know I’m listening a lot of different owners and drivers, and I’ve heard some interesting valid suggestions. So that being said, I think getting together and working together as a group and applying some suggestions.
I think bitching or saying some things that are not good is not the right thing. I think it’s better to find something to improve, and then bring a suggestion along with what we feel needs to be improved and try to do it in a timely fashion. From that point on, having people giving ideas and suggestions on all kinds of different aspects. There’s a lot of things that you could improve. Is our racing good? Yeah, our racing is quite good. Are the drivers good? Yeah. Could we improve certain things so we improve a different crowd? Yeah. What is the most important thing? Do a top-10 list and from there start with number one and go all the way down to 10. I have my own ideas, others have ideas, and we’ve been talking with different owners and drivers, and I’m kind of positive about it because I’ve seen the willingness in the series to work towards improving the series. it’s not going to be an overnight thing in 24 hours, but I think there’s room to listen and discuss.
Finally, to answer your question after I gave you this explanation, what I want to maintain is it’s not one thing. If someone is able to answer your question and say we’re going to do this and it’ll be much better, I think that’s unrealistic because everybody in the series has different challenges. You have people that are challenged with sponsorship, or with the technical aspect of the car for performance on the track, or with personnel, or travel, or marketing and visibility. There are other people that have challenges with support and activation. So everybody out there has a different challenge so fixing one won’t change the series in itself. It’s a couple of things that need to be improved at the same time with a big picture in mind, and that’s what will make the series grow and improve in a positive way.
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