Tagliani shoulders the load

CRASH CAMERON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:54 AM ET

EDMONTON - Part One …

So far so good.

Alex Tagliani has been racing professionally since they strapped him into an Atlantic series car in 1996.

But he’s only been an owner-driver for four races now.

From that should come a truckload of extra pressures.

“You can never quit at this,” said Tagliani, in Edmonton Thursday.

“Right now, as a team, we’re doing pretty good — qualifying on the first row and having pretty good races.

“But now it gets tougher, and next year will be even tougher, because it also raises expectations.”

But it’s an easier mental load to shoulder than he has had in too long a time.

Tagliani has spent the past few seasons knocking and knocking and knocking on doors of sponsors and team owners alike trying to keep himself in a ride.

He’s had promises come through. He’s had promises reneged, rugs pulled out from under him just as he was about to step into the car.

Through it all, he hung in. And learned a lot.

“What a difference a year makes,” said Tagliani with an obvious smile.

And a less obvious sigh of relief.

“You can just focus on driving, and that’s what I’ve been able to do.

“It’s kind of back to what racing is all about. Definitely (I am) enjoying it more than ever.”

His appearance here shows that any new duties as the wheelman for the new FAZZT racing team, didn’t discontinue his efforts to promote the Edmonton Indy — and Canadian car racing in general — as he has done at least the past three seasons.

Tagliani has a slice of the big pie that grew out of a partnership formed by his fellow Montrealer Andre Azzi and the Rubicon motorsports company co-founded by racing fan — and still a good Canadian kid despite his Hollywood background — Jason Preistley.

It’s also, virtually, a standalone Team Canada in a sport (open wheel racing) that once had the significant flavour of the Maple Leaf flowing through its ranks.

It gives the team a balance of respect, experience, determination and notoriety from which to build on.

Looks good on paper.

But IndyCars don’t race on paper.

“You need to have a level of performance, of course, to attract sponsors,” said Tagliani.

“But don’t just hope that they will be happy simply by seeing their name on a car. It’s a much more complex program to make it work.

“And I’m happy that I’m involved with the team this year — because that’s what we can give to the sponsor.

“It’s a lot more than you can (offer) when you’re a driver and trying to sell yourself so you can bring it to a team you don’t know.”

In that situation, he continued, “You’re still basically a passenger and you don’t have that freedom to give them that proper package.

“With what we have this year it’s totally different and I think that’s why it is working so well.”

Part Two …

So far so good.

As a driver and co-owner of a fledgling Indy Car team, Tagliani has had the shiny new FAZZT No. 77 consistently in behind the leaders, at the front of the mid-pack through the first four races of the 2010 IndyCar season.

Maybe more importantly he has kept the car ahead of the dangerous curves and corners at the back of the pack, where bad drivers and bad cars are bound to lurk. In other words, so far, the car has been kept in one piece.

But the so far, so good has been in street races and on road courses.

Now the series switches to four straight oval races.

So put a hold on all that information absorbed to this point …

And start all over.

“Straight into it,” said Tagliani, of the next phase of FAZZT’s learning curve.

The least-case scenario would be: not going straight into a wall.

“It’s going to be tough, real tough.

“We don’t know where we stand on ovals.

“We didn’t know when we got to Brazil (for the season opener at a first-time event on the streets of Sao Paulo). We were very, very nervous, but we showed up there and, bang!”

No, Tagliani wasn’t referring to a wall again.

He meant “bang!” in a good way. As in qualifying on the front row.

“Franchitti came to us and he was like, ‘Man! What the …’ ”

It was both a question and a compliment from defending series champ Dario Franchitti, the Scotsman with the Italian name who races for the powerhouse Chip Ganassi team.

“So it’s the same thing,” said Tagliani. “We’re going to go on ovals and see where we stand.

“We don’t know at what level of competition we are at with the other cars.

The oval journey starts next weekend in Kansas.

“The first one is going to be even tougher because I don’t know the track.

“And we have no time: two practices, qualifying, no warm-up and straight into the race.

“So we have our work cut out for us, right there.”

And then the rookie team has to prepare itself for the next race.

It’s a little 500-miler run at some place called Indianapolis.

david.cameron@sunmedia.ca


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