ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Alex Tagliani started out last year as the lone owner-driver in the IZOD IndyCar series since Michael Andretti hung up his fire suit.
His FAZZT Race team exceeded all expectations, including a surprising fifth-place qualifying run at the Indianapolis 500.
Tagliani will start this season as the lone Canadian on the grid for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday.
But in a move few saw coming, Tagliani’s business partner — Montreal entrepreneur Andre Azzi — wanted out of the team ownership deal just weeks before the team was headed to Barber Motorsports Park for testing start the 2011 season.
The result was that Sam Schmidt Motorsports — an Indianapolis-based team that ran in the Firestone Indy Lights Series the past several years — bought out both Tagliani and Azzi to take control of the team.
Tagliani did get to keep his sponsorship deal with Bowers & Wilkins, that will allow him to race in all 18 rounds of the IndyCar season, including the two Canadian races.
It’s not as if the veteran Tagliani finding himself with a new boss is unique experience. He started his open-wheel career in the Champ Car World Series with the Player’s Racing replacing Greg Moore, after the Vancouver native was killed at California Speedway.
He went from Player’s to two stints with Paul Gentilossi’s Champ Car team before racing at both Conquest Racing and Walker Racing.
He said this week he is at peace with just being a driver at SSM this season, especially because almost the entire FAZZT Race team was kept on by Schmidt.
“Things have changed, even though it’s business as usual with the same guys and the same everything,” Tagliani said. “With Sam, we have a boss. We have somebody who has experience in racing. He has won championships and has been successful in Indy Lights. He brings a lot of intensity to the team.”
Tags, as he is known in the IndyCar paddock, said that he doesn’t think he’s dreaming to believe that the new team can win this season.
“I don’t think it’s illogical to think we have the capability to try to get a win or two this year,” he said. “For sure, we need to get our stuff right.
“We have to throw a lot of things at the car to understand and to improve ourselves and build our ‘toolbox,’ like the engineers say. I think the first four races are good races for us and I think we can do really well.”