Alex Tagliani spent much of this week surrounded by loud music as he promoted his audio-products sponsor in Toronto-area stores. While a pounding bass beat might be enough to give many 38-year-olds a migraine, Tagliani remains more worried about the headaches likely to be caused by inopportune caution periods in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.
In fact, Tagliani still feels the pain from the 2009 IndyCar race in Toronto where he looked poised to take the also-ran Conquest Team into the winner’s circle until his race was ruined by an ill-timed yellow flag with 25 laps to go.
“I was on my way to the pits and there was a crash, the yellow came out, and I totally got screwed,” he said. “If the track had stayed green for four more corners, my strategy would have worked perfectly. I definitely would like to see that change to make it more fair.”
When a full-course caution is called in IndyCar, the pit lane closes and the cars line up in race order behind the pace car before they are allowed to stop for fuel and tires. The series shuts the pit because it wants to confirm the running order before allowing the cars to stop.
So, instead of diving into the pits, emerging as the leader and contending for a win in 2009, Tagliani was 11th after his stop and ultimately finished ninth.
It was almost the same situation in the 2005 Champ Car race, when Toronto’s Paul Tracy, now with Dragon Racing, ran out of fuel and retired from the lead after the pits closed for a caution with 31 laps to go.
With the same rule applying this year, both drivers might want to take a couple of headache tablets before they get in their cars for Sunday’s 85-lap race on the 2.84-kilometre, 11-turn street course at Exhibition Place.
Tagliani, of Lachenaie, Que., thinks the solution is slowing the cars to a set speed under the yellow, so no driver gains ground before the pace car picks up the leader. That kind of system is used in Formula One, which keeps the pit lane open under safety-car conditions.
“When a full-course yellow comes out, we have a light on our dash to tell us and it could be used as an engine governor just like Go-Kart tracks have – we have the technology to do it,” said Tagliani, who drives for the Sam Schmidt team.
“As soon as there’s a wreck, everybody slows down automatically: Nobody can pass, nobody gets an advantage, and nobody loses an advantage, but then the pits are still open. And it’s probably safer because you aren’t asking people to slow down, you make them.”
In addition, Tagliani’s suggestion would keep the cars spaced as they head for tires and gas, eliminating the cluster of 25 drivers that now pile into the pit lane together in a huge traffic jam that’s an accident waiting to happen.
Last year’s Toronto winner, Will Power, agrees with the idea, adding that adopting the F1-style system brings fairness.
“You shouldn’t get penalized for doing a good job and help someone for doing a bad job,” the Penske driver said.
“If you get a yellow at the wrong time it could ruin your day, it’s that simple. That’s why I think it would be better if they left the pits open during yellows.”
But a driver’s point of view on the procedure may depend on where he expects to be on the leaderboard during the race, because an inopportune caution for one often means good fortune for another.
“There’s a better chance that I will be the guy who is running ninth, catches a lucky yellow and ends up at the front than the one who is leading and stretching his fuel,” said IndyCar rookie James Hinchcliffe, of Oakville, Ont.
“It’s the same for everybody, so it’s really about just trying to play it as intelligently as you can. But I think there’s definitely an argument that the F1 system is maybe a bit more fair.”
The Newman-Haas driver pointed out that during June’s rain-soaked Canadian Grand Prix, Red Bull F1 driver Sebastian Vettel pitted on two separate occasions under a full-course yellow without losing his lead.
But, Hinchcliffe added, the IndyCar series must weigh the sporting aspect with putting on a good show, which he feels is “a delicate balance.”
Hinchcliffe’s Newman/Haas teammate, Oriol Servia, agrees there’s probably a better way, but he worries about a change, especially on tight street courses.
“It’s a tough call. First and foremost, you have to ensure you aren’t putting the safety team at risk,” the Spaniard said.
“Even with a rule where you had to go through the segment where the problem is at pit-lane speed [80 kilometres an hour], there are still places where that would be too fast.”
All Tagliani knows is that if he finds himself in the same situation as 2009 late in Sunday’s race, the anxiety alone might bring on a splitting headache.
“When there’s 25 or 30 laps to go and I know I am in the window [to get to the finish] and there are people pitting, the first thing that comes into your head is that you hope you don’t see a yellow,” he said.
“So, you drive full of stress and worry, because if a caution happens, the guys who pitted will go to the front and steal the position you worked so hard to earn.”
Special to The Globe and Mail