May 30, 2011
'Nervous' car sinks Tagliani
By Dean McNulty, QMI Agency
INDIANAPOLIS - Holding back tears borne of frustration more than sadness, Alex Tagliani got out of his broken No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara Honda on Sunday 52 laps short of finishing the 100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis 500.
An afternoon that started with history and such promise — Tagliani was the first Canadian to start on the pole at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — ended with a bent car as a result of hitting the wall in Turn 4.
“It’s heart breaking,” Tagliani said. “It is very difficult.”
Until that point in the race, Tagliani was running among the leaders and had led several times in a fierce battle with second-place starter Scott Dixon. At the halfway mark of the race, however, it all began to unravel.
On a pit stop under caution after fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe crashed on Lap 100, Tagliani’s team did everything it had done on the first two stops. Only this time when Tagliani went out to rejoin the field, the car felt different — radically different.
“The car became very, very nervous,” he said. “I don’t know what happened on that final pit stop but the car all of a sudden became so loose it almost scared me.”
Tagliani said it was as if someone had switched cars on him when he wasn’t paying attention. He said it was not even close to being the same car that had challenged for the lead for the first 100 laps of the race.
“I was just hanging on,” he said. “I wanted to be sensible and try to get back some control but I kept losing position after position.”
Tagliani said that he tried to think of what had gone wrong, but couldn’t come up with a solution.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “We are going to have to look at as a team.”
One thing the 38-year-old from the Montreal suburb of Lachenaie won’t do, however, is throw his team under the bus for any mistake on pit road that could be blamed for the car’s horrible handling in that final stint.
“The Sam Schmidt Motorsports team did an amazing job to come here with a small team and capture the pole,” Tagliani said. “I can go home knowing that as a team we accomplished a great deal.”
He pointed to the first 100 laps as an example of how fast the car was and how well it handled.
“If we hadn’t lost the balance I know we could have been fighting for the win,” he said. “The team was doing really good pit stops. But something happened on the third stop.”
Tagliani said when the car did go bad, it actually took him by such a surprise that he thought he might become part of a wreck.
“I’ll tell you there were a couple of nasty moments out there when it was all I could do to hang on and not crash,” he said. “It was really difficult to keep the rear of the car under me.”
Finally, on the Lap 148, he could not hang on any longer and as he drove into Turn 4 the car hit the wall breaking the front suspension arm.