It has not been easy to be Alex Tagliani over the first four races in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar season.
The Montreal native was stuck with an underpowered and failure-prone Lotus engine that was like an anchor on the No. 98 Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosports Dallara DW12.
In fact, Tagliani was able to finish only once in those races and never even made the trip for the Brazil race.
And heading to the Indianapolis 500 — where he had his greatest triumph last season becoming the first Canadian to win the pole position for the world’s most famous oval race — his future prospects were not looking good until his team managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
That rabbit was in the form of a Honda V6 turbo-charged engine after Lotus let the team out of its contract.
So there was Tagliani on Monday, back to his old exuberant self, the bounce back in his step, chatting up the media and fans at an IZOD IndyCar Series promotion event at Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant in downtown Toronto.
“It was hard,” Tagliani said. “But from the moment we got the Honda engine the Barracuda/BHA team went to work to get the No. 98 car up to speed.”
The team had only two days to practise before qualifying last Saturday and just crossed their fingers that the work they had done was enough to get Tagliani a decent spot on the grid.
Well, it wasn’t a pole like last year, but his 11th-fastest four-lap average of 224.000 m.p.h. will put Tagliani in the middle of Row 4 when the last strains of Back Home Again In Indiana are sung next Sunday afternoon.
Tagliani’s time was the second-best qualifying effort of all the Honda teams.
“I can’t emphasize just how excited I and the team are right now,” Tagliani said.
“It was a lot of work and we really tested the dedication of the boys at BHA in the change to Honda power, but we had all the support we needed from Honda engineers to make sure we were able to get up to speed.”
He said it was as if the whole of last week leading up to qualifying was on fast forward, with the team going non-stop to make sure there was little room for error.
But in the end it worked out.
“We are so pleased with our qualifying result,” Tagliani said. “It was that much more impressive to do it at the last minute the way we did.”
Now the work to get the race car ready begins. In fact in the first practice after qualifying, the Barracuda/BHA car was already getting good results in race trim.
“In practice on Sunday the car was great in traffic — so that eased my mind a great deal,” Tagliani said.
The ever-superstitious Tagliani also thinks that the team has someone special looking out for them.
This, after all, is the same ownership group that got the late Dan Wheldon his win last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I don’t know why, maybe wearing the No. 98 that Dan had last season and being with Bryan and the switch to Honda — it is going to bring us luck,” Tagliani said.
It is not, of course, Tagliani’s first encounter at Indy, but he said he has never felt more comfortable going into the big race the way he does this year.
“I am really pumped up for this race,” he said.
“I don’t think I ever have had so much confidence in the week before the Indy 500.”
Tagliani admitted, though, that come next Sunday morning he will begin feeling the pressure that every driver feels in the moments before the race is to start.
“I always get goose bumps when we go to line up at the Speedway,” he said. “When you are walking on pit lane; going to the driver’s presentation on the front straightaway.
“It’s difficult to explain. It is a track that has so much history; the size of it; the crowd; the intensity that every driver brings to the race. You just feel it in your whole body.”
Maybe it will be the year Tagliani can go from pole sitter to race winner.