INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 23, 2011) – Everything was hot at the last IZOD IndyCar Series race two weeks ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Not only was the racing action hot, so were the tempers of several drivers and owners after the race.
For Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani, though, the heat was real. An exhaust fire in the Canadian’s No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone car ended his race early. With flames engulfing the back half of the car, Tagliani climbed from the cockpit with his day over.
By the time practice begins Friday for Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma (Calif.) at Infineon Raceway, the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car will have been prepared and ready for Tagliani to resume his role as a “cool” IndyCar Series driver. It’s a role he plays well.
From rock star looks to super-model wife and homes in several cities, Tagliani is cool – plain and simple. But what really makes him IndyCar cool is his ability to perform under pressure. With flames all around him at New Hampshire, Tagliani calmly unbuckled and stepped out to the left side of his car, just like he always does. That’s cool.
This past May, Tagliani turned up the cool factor when he beat the giants of the sport at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by winning the prestigious pole for the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. Drivers say that qualifying at Indianapolis creates some of the most pressure-filled laps in motorsports. It’s a pole everyone wants. And, after being the fastest car for most of practice, the pressure was on Tagliani to win the pole.
With a worldwide TV audience watching live, Tagliani topped the Indy 500 time trial charts with his four-lap run of 2 minutes, 38.2613 seconds at 227.472 mph.
Two weeks later, Tagliani tamed the intimidating high banks of Texas Motor Speedway in stifling heat to win the pole for the first of two duel races. Again, with the heat on, the Canadian was cool in the Lone Star State.
Now, as IndyCar Series teams and drivers turn up the heat to improve their positions in the championship point standings with just four races left in the 2011 season, don’t look for heat from Tagliani and the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins team. They’re looking for cool in California.
Alex Tagliani, Driver of the No. 77 B&W Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
How does driving other racecars like you did this past weekend in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series and Canadian Tire Series help you behind the wheel of the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara?
“Obviously, the cars are so different. You can’t say it’s going to help what you do full-time, but I think just being in a car week-in and week-out, you know, is good. If you have a chance to be in a racecar, the more times you can drive a racecar, the better it is. In regards to how does driving the stock cars this past weekend help me for Sonoma, it was just good for me to be in a racecar, it was good for sponsors and it was good that we came out with a good result. Technically speaking, there isn’t anything I can take with me from Montreal and apply it to Sonoma. But being in a racecar and being in a competitive environment is always good.”
Tell us what you like about Infineon Raceway?
“I don’t know what it is, but I must like the track because last year was my first try at Sonoma. After just a few laps, I was quite competitive. We were P3 in practice one. In qualifying, we qualified fourth overall. I got used to the track quickly, even though it is not an easy track to get used to because of all the elevation changes and blind corners. But, overall, we had a really good car. What I like about the track, I think, is the mix of challenges. It’s one of those tracks where you have some pretty quick combination corners with pretty fast corners and lots of downforce. There is a big braking corner and areas where you need good mechanical grip, also. Some corners are like street-course corners and some are really fast. What is cool about the track is the fact it’s on a very big layout. It’s really huge. We experience the biggest elevation changes there than anywhere else on the IndyCar calendar. There’s the big climb in turn one with lots of compression. It’s one of those tracks where you really feel the grip and what a downforce car can do on a track that really allows the car to perform at its maximum potential. If you have any doubt on what an IndyCar can do, just go see them go through turn one at Sonoma and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. It’s a track with fast corners that allows you to take the IndyCar to another level.”
Away from the track, do you get a chance to enjoy the area around Sonoma?
“I have a really good memory from Sonoma last year. After the race, Bronte (wife) and I decided to stay in the area a little bit longer. We took two days off and did a Wine Country tour. Neither of us had been there before, so we discovered it for the first time. It’s definitely very beautiful. And, actually, on our way to Sonoma, we stayed a day in San Francisco. So, it was a good trip. This year, Thursday is Bronte’s birthday, and we look forward to celebrating it in Sonoma.”
Rob Edwards, team manager of the No. 77 B&W Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:
What are the challenges of getting an IndyCar team from a race in Edmonton, Alberta, to New Hampshire – with a race in Ohio in-between – then from New Hampshire to California, and then back to Baltimore in 34 days?
“Assuming that everything goes reasonably trouble-free with the number of years we’ve been doing this, it’s really not a huge issue. It’s really just a logistical issue. Obviously, the biggest thing is that it creates a lot of driving for the truck drivers. It’s a lot of time on the road for the crew. We try to get breaks in the schedule and keep everyone rested and fresh, and that’s really the biggest challenge. When you have crash damage or fire damage like we had from New Hampshire, it makes things more complicated. But the biggest challenge is just scheduling for the crew and drivers, making sure they get time off and some breaks.”
With so much logistical work between races, how do you keep the team focused on making the car go fast?
“That comes down to a separation of responsibilities. The logistical side, I handle with Valerie (Selman, team administrative assistant) booking travel and working with the truck drivers in terms of their schedules in moving the equipment and the cars from A to B in the time scale that we need to. In terms of keeping focused on the car, between myself, Don Oldenburg the crew chief, and engineers Nick (Snyder) and Ben (Bretzman), their focus is really on making the car go fast. There are really two separate groups within the organization that are focused on making sure we get from A to B when we need to and also making sure the car is prepared properly and has a set-up on it to go fast once we get to the track.”