|Alex Tagliani leads a pack of cars during the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500. (Robert Laberge/Getty Images/AFP)
INDIANAPOLIS — Alex Tagliani was steamed as he got out of his No. 77 FAZZT Racing Honda on Sunday and it had nothing to do with driving 500 miles in temperatures that reached 50 C on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval.
The object of Tagliani’s ire was 19-year-old rookie Sebastian Saavedra who blocked the veteran Canadian just as he was preparing to attack the race leaders.
At that point in the race, Tagliani was in fourth place and comfortably looking to challenge eventual winner Dario Franchitti for the honour of having his likeness on the Borg-Warner Trophy.
And to make matters worse, Saavedra was a lap down to the leaders.
Tagliani said just as he was set to pass him, the young Colombian moved over forcing the No. 77 car up the track.
“I got up behind Saavedra and he didn’t give me any room,” Tagliani said. “He was a lap down. I was really disappointed because he forced me into the marbles and I lost about 13 positions.”
The 37-year-old native of the Montreal suburb of Lachenaie said he was shocked at what Saavedra was doing.
“He squeezed me so hard I almost put (my race car) into the wall in Turn 1,” Tagliani said. “In order to have a chance to win we had to be near the front; he took that away from us.”
He said that Saavedra should know, no matter if he is a rookie or not, that there are certain things you just don’t do.
“It’s about courtesy and judgement. He didn’t give me any courtesy and obviously he doesn’t have much judgement,” Tagliani said. “I am going to find him later and tell him that what he did was foolish.”
What made the incident more hurtful was that Tagliani came to Indianapolis as a huge underdog, with a team that he patched together over the winter. Few in the race paddock were giving the tiny outfit any hope of winning the most prestigious oval race in the world.
But Tagliani’s crew shocked IndyCar giants like Ganassi and Penske to put his car on the second row on the final day of qualifying a week ago.
And until he got messed up by Saavedra, Tagliani was one of the fastest cars on the track.
“I was more disappointed today because the team gave me a fantastic car,” he said. “We were going to win it. I am convinced of that.”
Tagliani said that his engineers had set up his car perfectly for the conditions he found himself in — racing with the leaders.
All of that went away after the Turn 1 incident, however, and it dropped Tagliani from fourth to 17th.
“Once we got back there, with the downforce package we were running, it was very difficult to get back up to the front,” he said.
Tagliani said his plan was to race hard every lap.
“To that point we were really aggressive,” he said.
Although Tagliani was able to pick up seven spots to finish 10th, it was little consolation for a team that held out such high hopes. Still Tagliani said he was proud of what the FAZZT group had accomplished in such a short period of time.
“We finished the month here with a top 10 finish,” he said. “We can leave here with our heads held high.”