A year ago to the day, a sense of satisfaction was evident as FAZZT Race Team members watched Alex Tagliani guide the stark white car down the Homestead-Miami Speedway pit lane for its initial racetrack appearance.
The IZOD IndyCar Series start-up team – a misnomer actually given the experienced personnel and management team in place – was using Jan. 6-7 at the facility to get acquainted with the former Roth Racing equipment and, to a degree, each other.
Only four months earlier, team principals announced their intentions of competing in the series full time beginning in 2010.
“We started with a big project and the main thing is we didn’t want to be embarrassed at the track,” says Tagliani, who brought in fellow Quebec native Andre Azzi to take the operation from conceptualization to the track. “The only way I thought to be possible to do it was to start calling people that I thought were amazing in racing and the first one was Rob Edwards (chief operations manager). Everyone was very aware that time was playing against us. We looked at the pictures of what the shop look like in November (2009) and basically it was just an epoxy floor. While people in November were already testing and getting ready for the next season, our first shakedown test happened in January. We were really pushing it.
“Rob brought a lot of credibility and experience and he was able to put together a group of people that were amazing to be able to showcase what a team could do in a very short period of time.”
A front-row starting position in the season opener in Brazil surprised even the unflappable Edwards and engineer Allen McDonald. The No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car collected five top-10 finishes (running at the finish in 13 of the 17 races) with the veteran Tagliani behind the wheel. Fourth at Mid-Ohio, advancing from the seventh row and leading 30 laps, was the season’s high-water mark.
On-track results, however, weren’t the only measure of success.
“We felt that we were a strong team, but everybody was on the same playing field because no one had been on that track,” Tagliani says of the street circuit in Sao Paulo. “It was nice to be competitive. That was the statement of the team. Internally, the team doesn’t have data from the past. I had never been on some of these tracks, so we’re going to go blind. I said, ‘OK, how did we do in Brazil? Oh, pretty good, so let’s put the Brazil setup on for St. Pete.’ Well, it’s not the same track and at the time people had more experience at that track than us.
“But we qualified seventh, so we started thinking OK we’re not that bad. We just missed the Firestone Fast Six by a half a tenth (of a second) so we should be OK. We finished sixth. From that point of view, now we wanted more, maybe too much. We were going race after race and wanted that win. Let’s make it happen.
“When you look at other races like Sonoma, where I had never been and we qualified fourth and the team didn’t have the data and we didn’t go testing the week before, every time we qualified well in the fast six who was there – two Penske, two Ganassi and us. That also was kind of an eye-opener and sense of pride.
“When we look back, it’s a shame we let some things slip through our fingers. Edmonton we lost a top 10 and Chicago we were in lead and ran out of fuel and got taken out on restart. All these little issues caused us to not finish in the top eight in the championship, which would have been kind of the cherry on the sundae like we started.”
The 2011 opener – the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – is less than 90 days out and the effervescent Tagliani can’t wait. The team put in two test days at Sebring International in November with GP2 driver Ho-Pin Tung providing feedback from the cockpit. Expanding to a full-season, two-car outfit is being explored.
“You have to appreciate how difficult it is to compete in IndyCar, but with one year under our belts all these things that happened just shows the quality of the people on board,” Tagliani says. “As a driver, you believe in your capabilities and they give you the equipment. You drive and get involved to help as much as possible and see where that leads. This past year was different because we really wanted to make a statement during the season. We got what we wanted, were competitive out of the gate and then during the year we learned what we needed to learn.
“This year it would be proper to set a goal. Last year, because I didn’t know what to expect and what we were going to have, you never raced against those guys and teams, I didn’t set goals. It was race for race and what was happening. This season will be the first time since 2003 that I’ll have two years in a row of same engineer and we’ll have data from the tracks, and that’s a big advantage. I’m looking forward to it.”