After spending the better part of the last decade racing on shoe-string budgets and with an uncertain future, Canadian Alex Tagliani looks forward an IndyCar season where all he needs to do is drive the car.
“It's a luxury — I am really excited about it,” said Tagliani, whose deal to drive for Bryan Herta Motorsport was announced last week.
“What fuels me is a new challenge: As a driver, you feel good when you are in the cockpit and when you are working with a team that needs you and wants you and you are the middleman between what they are trying to achieve and what you can give them.”
In the past four years, Tagliani spent most of his time away from the racetrack beating the bushes for sponsors, trying to find stability for his career.
That should change in 2012 because a week before announcing the Lachenaie, Que. driver’s signing, the Herta Motorsport team revealed a partnership with a Toronto company, Bowen & Bowers Motorsports, which will drum up all the sponsorship needed for the outfit. Within days of the commercial deal becoming public, the team announced Barracuda Networks would be the title sponsor for 2012.
The team’s arrangement means Tagliani won't need to find any additional money to keep him in the car, something that has consumed most of his free time of late.
That said, there may be a bit of uncertainty for Tagliani in other areas, mostly due to the new engines being used in IndyCar this season. Both Chevrolet and Lotus join Honda in 2012 as powerplant manufacturers.
“We are going to be very dependent on the engine, where in the past we showed up at the racetrack and the engine was the same for everyone,” said Tagliani, who will get his first crack at driving his Lotus-powered car next week on the road course at Florida's Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Now the engine becomes a new piece of the puzzle. You can't just think it will be alright and it's definitely something we will have to manage carefully. It's nice to have three engine manufacturers in the series but we will have to ensure we are at the good end.”
IndyCar ditched the normally-aspirated 3.0-litre V-8 engine formula from the last seven seasons, mandating a new 2.2-litre, twin-turbo V-6 to go into the new Dallara chassis making its debut this year.
The Lotus motor is being manufactured by Engine Developments which produces Judd-branded powerplants. In addition to the engine, Tagliani's car will carry the iconic black and gold colours made famous by the 1970s Lotus Formula One team, sponsored by John Player Special cigarettes.
The new livery first used to mimic a cigarette brand brings things full circle for Tagliani who started out in style when he made his Champ Car debut with the flush Player’s/Forsythe Team in 2000. He raced in the blue and white Player's cars for three seasons before losing his seat to fellow Canadian Paul Tracy. After that, things didn’t exactly reflect the glamorous high life.
Stints with financially-challenged Rocketsports and Team Australia outfits over the next five seasons meant that he never knew if his next race would be his last. Things got worse after that, with Tagliani needing to find personal backers to keep a part-time career going and driving only when he had enough sponsor money to cover the bills. In 2008 and 2009 he made only 10 starts out of a possible 36 IndyCar races following the demise of Champ Car after the 2007 racing season.
In 2010, he bought into the FAZZT Team with Montreal businessman Andre Azzi and former Kelley Racing co-owner Jim Freudenberg and brought home entertainment equipment company Bowers & Wilkins on board in a personal sponsorship deal. FAZZT was bought by Sam Schmidt Motorsports before last season and Tagliani departed the team at the end of the year, taking Bowers &Wilkins with him.
His new team owner, retired driver Bryan Herta, thinks Tagliani’s history of moving to new, inexperienced teams will help his outfit as it embarks on its first full season of IndyCar racing.
“His speed is well known, and honestly I think Alex has been looking for a home where he is fully supported and comfortable to perform at his full capability, we intend to provide that for him,” Herta said.
“Tag's speed in the car will help the team the most, but he has driven many miles in IndyCars and his feedback and experience will be something we will lean on heavily as the car and Lotus engine continue to develop.”
One event where the team may have high hopes is the Indianapolis 500, where it returns to the famed Brickyard as the defending champion team with the 2011 race winning engineer, Canadian Todd Malloy, on the timing stand and last year's pole sitter in the car. Herta Motorsport won last year’s race with the late Dan Wheldon at the wheel.
On the downside, the 2012 IndyCar schedule won't allow Tagliani to race at home in Montreal in August’s NASCAR Nationwide race, but that doesn't rule out a stock car start this year.
“There's a conflict in the schedule with China so I won't be in Montreal unless something magical happens with the calendar,” he said.
“I will still look at the possibility of doing a road course somewhere else and will talk to some teams to do a race like Watkins Glen [N.Y.]or Road America [in Elkhart lake, Wis.]”
Missing the annual stock car race in Montreal is a bit of a disappointment since the 39-year-old was looking to go back to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to improve one spot from his second place finish driving for the Penske team last year.
But with things looking busy in 2012 with a new chassis and engine to deal with in IndyCar, Tagliani will likely need to focus his attention on the job at hand anyway.
“It's not my first rodeo,” he said. “But it's going to be a bit challenging during the first part of the season to catch up to some of the other teams who have started their programs a bit earlier than we have.”
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