Tagliani looking forward to a 'normal return'
A hearty laugh crosses the phone line as Alex Tagliani recounts the circumstances surrounding his first IZOD IndyCar Series race.
To refresh the memory, it was 2008 at Belle Isle and Tagliani was called upon by Eric Bachelart to sub for the injured Enrique Bernoldi in the Conquest Racing entry. Tagliani, who had competed in Champ Car, was at the time driving in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
Tagliani drove overnight to Detroit and immediately was indoctrinated in the paddock to prepare for the race weekend on the 2.07-mile, 14-turn street course.
"We tried to mold the seat but it was too late (in the day) to get it done, so I jumped into Bernoldi's seat," Tagliani said. "He was a bit bigger than me and I had to put some blankets on top of the seat to make it work.
"After a year, when you don't drive an Indy car, it's a wake-up call and Detroit is not an easy track. So my first drive in the car was 'Oh, what did I get myself into? After a couple of laps I was OK. They were my first laps in a Dallara IRL car. It was an interesting way to get back into the IndyCar world."
Tagliani started 21st in the 26-car lineup and was running fifth at one point before a gearbox issue relegated the Canadian driver to 22nd place.
"It was an opportunity not to miss," said Tagliani, who also competed at Chicagoland Speedway and the exhibition race at Surfers Paradise, Australia (fourth-place finish) that season. "When I jumped in the car and I was going around Turns 1 and 2, all the bumps were a lot rougher, the braking and the power were wake-up calls. I got back into the beat quickly but the first couple of laps they were very rough.
"I remember Detroit from that perspective. I'm looking forward to starting there in a normal fashion."
Tagliani enters the 90-lap race following a 12th-place finish in the 96th Indianapolis 500, in which he had a roller coaster 200 laps. He led the race in the No. 98 Team Barracuda-BHA car, was sent to the rear of the field for a pit lane speed violation, and climbed way back despite having issues with the weight jacker (adjusting the car's balance from inside the cockpit) and an alarm on the steering wheel.
A malfunctioning system also prevented Tagliani from taking on fluids throughout the 3-hour event in track temperatures that reached 140 degrees.
"To get your lap back under green (following the pit lane penalty) showed that the car was strong," he said. "The race, with the new cars running so close, it was a tight competition. If you had a good car like we did, you could go for the win. But you need pretty much everything to be perfect. We missed on small little things."
On top of all that, it was the first race for the team this season using a Honda engine.
"It was a big test of dedication on the part of the crew and team," said Tagliani, who started from the pole in 2011 with Honda power. "The switch (from Lotus following the Long Beach event in mid-April) was an eye-opener. I thought we'd change engine and be good to go. It's a lot more; there were a lot of little things that needed to be done. I have a new appreciation for the team."