Q and A with IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani
IZOD IndyCar Series driver Alex Tagliani participated in an INDYCAR conference call to preview the Grand Prix of Baltimore. Tagliani, driver of the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda, is 17th in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings despite missing a race earlier this year. Tagliani has advanced to all but one of the Firestone Fast Six qualifying sessions since his team moved to Honda, and has recorded seven top-10 finishes in the past eight races. Tagliani will be looking to get his first podium finish of 2012 at the Grand Prix of Baltimore, where he was seventh a year ago.
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to today's IndyCar conference call. Our guest today is the driver of the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda, Alex Tagliani.
Alex is currently 17th in the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings despite missing the race in Brazil earlier this year. Since Barracuda Racing switched to Honda power at Indianapolis, Alex has qualified for all but one of the Firestone Fast Six sessions held and has recorded seven top-10 finishes in the last eight races. He finished seventh a year ago in Baltimore and will be looking to score his first podium finish at the Grand Prix of Baltimore.
Other than the engine, what has been the biggest change at Barracuda Racing this year?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I'm very, very surprised. Obviously it's our first year together as a group, first year for BHA. Overall the big change was switching to Honda. It was a pretty big decision from the team. But Bryan (Herta) and the Barracuda Racing people decided it was the best thing we could do for the future and we felt that our team was at a level where we deserved to have the proper engine manufacturer with us, to showcase what we were capable of.
On the first four races of the championship, we had a lot of DNFs, a lot of problems. We missed one. So our championship really began at the Speedway. Since then we've been regular, pretty consistent. Qualifying has been our highlight. We were very, very quick in qualifying.
I think overall we're looking forward to a strong 2013 season and hopefully finishing 2012 strong, as well.
Q. You mentioned there are two races to go. You sat on the pole at Texas, so you know the car can be fast on an oval. There's one road and street course left at Baltimore. Do you think you can compete for wins at Baltimore and Fontana?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yeah, our first street course after we switched to Honda after the Speedway was Detroit. We were third on the grid there. We didn't have the chance to really capitalize on a great qualifying because we had to start from the pit lane. Overall we had a strong race, made it back all the way to top five, then had an issue, we got cycled back to 21st.
I think our car has been pretty strong on street course. Toronto we qualified fast. There's been a couple races where we didn't have a chance to show the speed or pace we had in the race. Edmonton was a good example where we were good, not good on old tires, but good on new tires. Overall I don't expect anything different. I really hope that we'll be able to get right in the range of where we need to be with the setup and work our weekend through that.
Barracuda team to me and everyone has done an amazing job to be there when it always counts. If we can do that in the last two races, it would be great.
Q. Talk about Baltimore a little bit, changes in the course. The key change is the elimination of the chicane on the front. Do you think those changes will affect the racing this weekend?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I think so, definitely. The straightaway now is the length of a street course race. Without the chicane in the middle, it will allow for more passing, especially with the 'push to pass'. There's been a heavy braking zone down the end. It opens up the door.
I think it has the possibility to put on a pretty good show. The changes, I didn't really see them. I'm looking forward to seeing them tomorrow morning. I think they're just going to be like a step up regarding safety, also for the drivers to put on a better show for the fans, to get the Indy cars to stretch their legs with the turbo engine.
On paper it looks really good. I'm really looking forward to see the changes.
Q. I was wondering if you had a chance to talk to Ryan Hunter-Reay and what your side of Sunday's incident is.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yeah, I spoke with him after the race. I stopped by in the pit lane. He was still there. I went to see the guys and Ryan. I apologized to him again about the incident. I wanted him to take a few minutes just to hear my side of the story because when I first got with him it was basically his side of the story, and I accepted it. I also accepted the fact he had the right to be upset.
The incident, obviously Barracuda Racing and myself as a driver, we earned the right to race against anybody out there. We have our own little championship going on. We need to be in the leader's circle for next year, so it's very important that we grab as many points as possible.
I don't think it would be fair for my team if I know that I have a car to pass Dario and I just lay back. I don't think Bryan would be very happy with me if I do that. If you decide to make a move on someone, you might make a mistake. That's accident happened. I went into the corner, side-by-side with Dario (Franchitti). I locked brakes. I missed the apex by a foot. I hit Ryan's bumper and made him spin.
For my defense, it's not the first time it happened with drivers in that corner with the race. It happened to him. It happened to other people. Also (it was) my first drive-through penalty in a long time.
If he has a short memory, it's not fair, because he's been called for drive-through by hitting Scotty D (Dixon) in Toronto and Ryan Briscoe in Barber and this year as well.
Everybody is exposed to making a mistake once in a while when you're fighting for the same piece of real estate in IndyCar. Unfortunately that day it was him.
I will apologize every day I see him until you know that you can move on and understand. That's the only thing I can do. I'm not going to hide behind my mistake. Other than that, I can't do anything else.
Q. I'm wondering if you're getting sort of to the end of open-wheel racing, getting up in age a little bit - no offense - but you had a lot of fun in NASCAR in Montréal. Can you talk about that experience and is that something you're seriously looking at doing more of maybe in the next couple years, sort of a place to move once you're done with the open-wheel racing?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, for sure I had fun in the last two years in NASCAR. Fair enough, it's a road course. We're pretty used to road course, so we have a chance to be competitive. It would have to take a couple of races, maybe a partial season for really allowing yourself to pay your dues and get involved in that. Maybe it's a long-term project.
As far as open-wheel goes, I'll repeat it: Until I'm not slow, I'm going to stay in open-wheel. As far as I'm concerned I'm pretty quick right now with the car that I have.
I'm about to renegotiate my deal for next year. It seems pretty good. So, you know, I would have to come into a season and just realize within myself that I don't have it and I can't compete in the top five. If I can't do it, then it will come from myself. But IndyCar is pretty attractive for me.
Q. For next year, you started the season in a big hole with Lotus, things have sort of turned around since then. Can you talk what's happened since your change to Honda and how that will translate into 2013.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, that's exactly what happened. It's not a secret. Everything happened kind of late, putting together the program. It was no fault from anybody. It's just like put the piece of the puzzle. Bryan was a first-year team in IndyCar. We thought we were doing things right. Unfortunately we realized that, okay, our team is pretty strong, we have a car that can go fast. By looking at the technical data, we saw if we have a different engine, we would be able to showcase what we really are all about.
I think it was important for the Barracuda Racing team, and for the sponsors, our supporters, to say, Is this the team we want to be for the future?
Made the change to Honda. Honda was kind enough to say, Okay, I think this team should be part of our family. With the driver and car combination, we did it. It paid off. We've had amazing qualifying since then, very competitive. We've been second Honda qualifier at the Speedway. We were third on the grid in Detroit at our first street course. So results really started popping really quickly.
The first four races for us were a disaster, and they hurt our championship points. But, I mean, it was a decision for the long-term, for the future. I think the team did right. Honda came back with us and everybody seems to be super excited and happy for the future.
So thumbs up to everybody that decided to make the change. It was a pretty difficult thing to do and come up with financially, manpower, everything was pretty hard.
We did it and it paid off.
Q. You're a one-car team. Any thoughts of having a second car for next year? How important is it to have that second car to bounce ideas off of for setup and everything?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I'm sure it's in the best interest of the team. I'm sure they're looking at it. They're looking at all kinds of options. But Bryan (Herta) told me he's very happy with the combination that we're having. The chemistry with my engineer, Todd (Malloy), is amazing. I feel good in the car. Everything is just like a dream right now for us as a team.
It's very much in the plan for the team to work on a package to try to put a second car. It would be just perfect. Financially the two budgets would help each other. The two drivers would help each other. We know all the advantages to have two cars. But right now, Bryan's focus is just to make sure the first car is in contention next year to win races and be consistent the way we have been, and even bring it a step up. If we can do that, it will be an amazing second year for the team.
Q. For guys like yourself who have been in different open-wheel cars over the years, the biggest change I'd have to think in passing is trying to gauge the distance, especially now that there's the rear wheel guards. How have you adjusted to when you're closing on someone? There's been a couple of instances of contact. How have you had to change the way you pass to avoid contact in that sense?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yeah, I mean, like you're saying, you hit it right on the head. It must be something to get used to it because I've seen like Dario kind of clip the rear bumper of someone I think in Detroit, broke his front wing by trying to make a pass not on the straightaway without even going down on the braking.
Yeah, I mean, I can tell you for myself, when I got into turn seven in Sonoma, I made it. I thought the corner was good. Then Ryan turned right in front of me. I'm like, (expletive). I thought it was like a foot. I felt so bad right there. I felt sorry for him. How come did I clip that car?
Yeah, one of the many things I got surprised with the fact that my nose just clipped his rear bumper. I mean, it's what it is. We have to race with that car. I think it's a safety device that is on the car and is very important for the safety of the driver and everything.
But it can take you by surprise sometimes. I got caught by it. I paid the price. Same for Ryan.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about adding new tracks next year. What track are you most interested in seeing added to the calendar?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, I mean, for a driver, I don't think it would be fair to just be listening to drivers what they want because we have our own little preference in regards of tracks. I think it has to be making sense financially, be a good business case, a good market. There's more to it than just preference.
But if I can allow myself just to say which one I would like, it for sure would be Road America. It's an amazing track to drive on. It's long. It has a mix of all kinds of corners, pretty heavy braking zone where you're pulling a lot of Gs, very fast corners, very challenging. Yeah, I mean, I would love to go back on that racetrack.
I would love if we could add other racetracks in Canada and organize like a Triple Crown championship within the overall IZOD IndyCar championship.
I'm a very small piece of the puzzle in the whole scheme of adding tracks, where and which ones. Yeah, I have my preferences. That would be great if we could have that back.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as there are no further questions for Alex, we will thank him for his time and wish him the best of luck this weekend at Baltimore.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Thank you.
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