Tagliani one of IndyCar's big boys

Indy driver Alex Tagliani points to the china teacup holding up the Indy car. Media are invited to...

Indy driver Alex Tagliani points to the china teacup holding up the Indy car. Media are invited to a special event that will begin the 25-day countdown to the 2011 edition of the Honda Indy Toronto. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:04 PM ET

Alex Tagliani figures that his time has come.

Time that is for a major open wheel driving championship trophy with his name engraved on it in capital letters.

Now in his 12th year competing at the top levels of IndyCar racing Tagliani is getting the recognition many thought he deserved prior to this season.

Yes, he has won in the Champ Car World Series and collected numerous podium finishes including a pair -- second in 2002 and a third in 2005 -- at the Honda Toronto Indy.

But it was not until this season that Tagliani has been able to string together back-to-back-to-back-to-back strong performances.

It is something he credits squarely with a sponsorship package from electronic entertainment experts Bowers & Wilkins that left the team financially able to work on building a faster car in the past off-season.

"The big thing is that our association with Bowers & Wilkins was so good last year that it allowed us to develop the car this past winter," Tagliani said Wednesday at an event in downtown Toronto to promote the 25th edition of the Honda Toronto Indy. "It made a 180 degree difference. Instead of being a team that was 90% focused on building walls and floors (on the Indianapolis race shop) we were able to work on the car and nothing else for the 2011 season."

The results started in the Florida sunshine at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersberg this past March in his first race with the Sam Schmidt Motorsports team that had been cobbled together from his own FAZZT Racing team of a year earlier.

Hardly anyone was expecting Tagliani to battle with the powerhouse Penske, Ganassi and Andretti super teams that have owned the top finishes in the IZOD IndyCar series, but there he was with a sixth-place finish when the final checkered flag flew.

That result was followed by a fifth place at the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Then came his big breakthrough when he won the pole -- the first Canadian in history to do so -- at the Indianapolis 500 in his No. 77 Dallara Honda.

A switch to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series two weeks ago for a one-off at the ICAR circuit at Montreal didn't slow him down. He earned a pole there and was set to win when he was spun by his own teammate with less than five laps remaining.

At Texas Motor Speedway Saturday in the IndyCar Firestone Twin 275 Tagliani again stuck the No. 77 car on the pole.

"Slowly but surely this season is showcasing the results that comes from good teamwork and good sponsorship," he said.

"Now we look like a race team. Now we are really going after wins."

Tagliani admits that after a dozen years pounding the pavement he is considered a veteran in open wheel racing, but he is also quick to remind that it took Toronto IndyCar icon Paul Tracy 13 seasons before he won his championship back in 2003.

And he said that with the SSM team he feels almost like a rookie again.

"I am in the best physical shape of my career," Tagliani said. "I feel like I am just starting my career."

The native of the Montreal suburb of Lachenaie said a move from is off-season home in Las Vegas to Indianapolis this season has helped him maintain a strong training schedule and be more hands on in the day-to-day activities at the shop where the team gets the car race ready.

"It has been good," Tagliani said. "I feel I am on top of my game. I feel it is my time."

One thing the team is working on is making the No. 77 car more consistent on race day. They, of course, already have the qualifying thing down.

"We still have a couple of thing to figure out how to make our set up more consistent during the race," Tagliani said. "Once we solve that, and we are close, I want to find a way to win the championship."

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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