When Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra coined the phrase “It’s déjà vu all over again,” he could have been predicting Alex Tagliani’s career path.
For the fifth time in the past 10 years, the Canadian racer from Lachenaie, Que., finds himself on the outside looking in after being replaced in the cockpit by his team.
The news from the Bryan Herta Autosport squad came in a press release last week which said that Tagliani would be stepping aside beginning with Wednesday’s IndyCar test at the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course. His Herta Team would use the track time to evaluate Italian driver Luca Filippi, who has six wins over seven seasons in the Formula One feeder series called GP2.
In the test, Filippi completed 56 laps of the Mid-Ohio Course and could only manage a time good enough for 18th overall. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay was quickest, followed by Schmidt Hamilton driver Simon Pagenaud and Penske’s Will Power. Oakville, Ont.’s James Hinchcliffe, who drives the No. 27 Go Daddy car for Andretti, was seventh overall. IndyCar races at the Mid-Ohio track on Sunday.
With Tagliani on racing’s equivalent of the disabled list, his team will use the remaining six races of the IndyCar schedule to look at drivers it hopes will be part of a two-car operation in 2014. Herta did not indicate whether Tagliani is part of the plan.
There’s no doubt that 2013 has been a disappointment for Tagliani. He has only two top-10 finishes in 13 starts this year after surprising many with his speed in the one-car outfit last season. After the team ditched the uncompetitive Lotus engine in favour of Honda power after three races last year, Tagliani qualified in the top-six at six of the final 10 races of 2013 and scored eight top-10 finishes in those starts.
The optimism Tagliani brought into 2013 was dashed quickly when it became apparent his outfit could not come to grips with the different Firestone tire compounds the rubber maker supplied the teams this year. The team has struggled all season with set-up and simply can’t find a way to make its car fast.
Sadly, being dropped by a team he’s put loads of back-breaking work into is a story that’s not exactly unfamiliar to the veteran of 190 races in the past 14 open wheel seasons.
A decade ago, Tagliani lost his seat at the Player’s Forsythe Team to fellow Canadian Paul Tracy, who was brought into the team as the cigarette company went all-out to win a Champ Car (formerly Championship Auto Racing Teams) title in its final year of racing sponsorship. Player’s left the sport due to tight tobacco sponsorship rules that came into force in October 2003.
At the end of the season, Tracy took the title while Tagliani worked tirelessly to finish 10th overall in points with the fledgling Rocketsports outfit. After getting his first Champ Car win, which was also Rocketsports’ maiden triumph, and moving up to seventh overall in the final standings in 2004, Tagliani was dropped by Rocketsports when German Timo Glock arrived at the team’s door with a pocketful of sponsorship cash from courier company DHL.
That story repeated itself in 2006, when Tagliani lost his ride of two seasons with Team Australia to Simon Pagenaud, who moved into the spot courtesy of a $2-million cheque for winning the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic title.
After another one-year stint with Rocketsports, Tagliani could not find a full-time seat when Champ car was swallowed by the new IndyCar Series prior to the 2008 season. He ended up starting 10 races over two seasons as a part-timer before becoming the driver and part-owner of the FAZZT Team with Montreal businessman Andre Azzi and former Kelley Racing co-owner Jim Freudenberg.
That deal was supposed to bring stability to a career that had been wrought with uncertainty but it didn’t work out that way. After the plan for a flush team with huge resources behind it turned out to be more dream than reality, the outfit was sold to Indy Lights owner Sam Schmidt. Despite taking the pole for the 2011 Indianapolis 500, Tagliani’s relationship with Schmidt ended before the first season under new management was complete. Tagliani left for Herta after being replaced by Dan Wheldon in the penultimate round in Kentucky and signing with the team for 2012.
It was supposed to be a new chapter in Tagliani’s career where he finally found a home and ended his racing days on a high note.
And while it may now appear that there won’t be a storybook ending, racing fans should have learned one thing over the years when it comes to Tagliani: Never count him out.
DTM makes a strange ruling
Robert Wickens is no longer a race winner in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Series. The Canadian seemed to be the victor in the series’ July 14 race at the Norisring when winner Mattias Ekström was disqualified and second-placed man Wickens was promoted to top spot.
Enter the appeal court of the German Motor Racing Association, which upheld the Ekström disqualification but also decided not to promote the rest of the field one spot. Instead, the Norisring race will go into the books without a winner.
Mercedes driver Wickens, of Guelph, Ont., remains as the second-placed driver of the Norisring race and gets the points for that position. The Canadian is fifth overall in points with 45. Audi driver Mike Rockenfeller leads with 69, two ahead of BMW driver and defending DTM champion Bruno Spengler, of St. Hippolyte, Que. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
DTM is back in action on Sunday, making its Russian debut at Moscow Raceway.
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