Alex Tagliani proving his point

DEAN McNULTY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — There is something just slightly out of kilter seeing Alex Tagliani rolling out from behind his FAZZT Racing team’s 18-wheel transporter on what at first looks like a chopped motorcycle.

But it takes only a fraction of a second for it to register — there’s no vroom-vroom coming from the custom-made Bowers&Wilkens motorcycle.

In fact, there is no noise at all as he glides past the curious onlookers in the IZOD IndyCar Series paddock at Homestead Miami Speedway.

It is in stark contrast to the screaming howl that is coming from the team’s garage stall 10 metres away where mechanics are putting the 3.5-litre V8 engine in Tagliani’s Honda-powered Dallara through its paces.

Yet there is a definite symmetry in what is going on here.

Tagliani, getting ready for the final race on the 2010 IndyCar calendar, wants all the eyeballs he can get to focus on him and the Bowers&Wilkens logo that adorns the electric-powered chopper as he weaves in and around fans and race officials at the south Florida track.

He likes the innovation and eco-friendliness that ties him to the logo and the bike.

Because back in Toronto — where B&W boss Joe Atkins makes the decisions on where the high-end audio equipment manufacturer’s sponsorship dollars are spent — there are smiles every time their logo is displayed. It is proof they were right to align themselves with Tagliani and his start-up team this season.

It’s all part of Tagliani’s daily regimen of keeping both his 300-km/h race car and his business plan tuned up.

In this first year of venturing out into big-time racing with his own team, in partnership with Montreal businessman Andre Azzi, Tagliani has been a surprising success story.

It hasn’t come, however, without a whole lot of anxiety and pressure to make it work.

“When we first approached Andre back in November (of 2009) with the plan to form our own team there was lots of anxiety,” Tagliani said on Friday after he returned to his transporter from his little chopper tour. “The first thing was that I did not want to be ‘that team’ that everyone points to and sort of makes jokes about.”

Because if Tagliani has carried anything with him through almost a decade in top-level open wheel racing from his roots growing up in the Montreal suburb of Lachenaie, it is his own sense of self worth. He has a fierce, and well-deserved, pride in what he has accomplished, winning at every level of racing — even stock cars where he won the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at the Honda Indy Edmonton in 2008.

He would rather not race at all than be the object of scorn in the racing paddock.

“When we went out and were second in qualifying at the first race of the season at Sao Paulo (this season) it was among the best days of my life,” Tagliani said. “And then to get caught up in a wreck right at the start of that race made it also one of my worst days ever. I wondered how we could compete against the three-, four- and five-cars teams.”

Tagliani was justified in feeling like the little train that could with IndyCar powerhouses Penske, Ganassi and Andretti all dwarfing his team in terms of funding and resources.

The turnaround, really, came at the Indianapolis 500 in May where Tagliani qualified his No. 77 fifth, right in the middle of the big three, and finished the race 10th.

“Nobody was laughing after that,” Tagliani said.

Going ahead, the 37-year-old Tagliani is already lining up sponsors for 2011.

“We have been very fortunate that so many companies (including Sun Media) have supported us in the past and have indicated they will stay with us for next season,” he said.


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