May 22, 2011
Tagliani can now be mentioned with the best Canadian racers
By Dean McNulty, Toronto Sun
|Alex Tagliani shows his car a little love while celebrating taking the pole for next Sunday’s Indy 500. He is the first Canadian to earn that honour.
Alex Tagliani stepped out of some pretty long shadows when he became the first Canadian to win the pole position for the Indianapolis 500.
Throughout his career Tags, as he is affectionately known throughout the IZOD IndyCar paddock, has had to play second fiddle to his native contemporaries in motor racing.
Whenever great Canadian drivers — the likes of Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy, Ron Fellows and Patrick Carpentier — of the past several decades are noted Tagliani’s name is often missing from the list.
But no more. After his last minute heroics at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday propelled his No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara Honda to the top of the Indy 500 Pole Day qualifying session, Tagliani’s name will from now on be enshrined with the best this country has ever sent to a race track.
After his pole win he talked about how he had maintained his passion for the sport throughout his career and how he has finally found a group in Sam Schmidt Motorsports who match him on the passion scale.
“There has been a lot of sacrifice and tears and pain through my career,” Tagliani said. “I’m at the shop most every day, and I see how much passion they have to build this car. I think that shows how much they care and how much they want to have results.”
Tagliani is a student of his sports and he knows just how much in means to win the pole at Indianapolis. And to win it on the 100th anniversary of the first Indy 500 makes it that much more special.
“You know, it’s difficult to explain but to do it here at this particular time on the 100th anniversary (is special),” he said. “If you participate in the 100th, you didn’t do the first one and you won’t do the 200th, so this just happens once.”
If there was a one negative that came out of Tagliani’s feat is was veiled criticism from Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who finished second on Saturday.
In what sounded very muck like sour grapes, Dixon said that Tagliani and his No. 77 team had put all their eggs in one basket in winning the pole.
“I know Tagliani and his guys in (engineer) Allen McDonald have obviously worked extremely hard, and that I think showed during the week,” Dixon said. “But I don’t think I ever saw them do one race run. They focused solely on trying to get the pole.”
Dixon might also have mentioned that his team has about 10 times the budget of Tagliani’s squad.
Teams like Ganassi and Penske Racing can afford to concentrate on race trim runs because they really don’t have to worry about qualifying.
“We don’t have the luxury to go out there and risk a car that is capable of being on pole, and it was the smart approach,” Tagliani said of Dixon’s comments.
He said that it just happened that the car he won the pole with was the same one that put him in the second row last year and he learned from talking to some NASCAR drivers that once you find a good, fast car you keep running it.
And that, he said, just makes sense for a small team.
“I think knowing it from the NASCAR guys, when they have a car that is very good at a certain track, they just never run it other than at that track,” Tagliani said. “So this car is the car I drove last year. It was fast. It unloaded fast. If you feel that you have a shot to be on the pole for the 500, you’re not going to go out there and draft people and put yourself at risk.”
For the first time this season, a regular NASCAR Nationwide Series driver — one that does not double in he Sprint Cup series — has won a race. Ricky Stenhouse won Sunday at Iowa Speedway in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang, beating teammate Carl Edwards in the No. 60 Mustang.