INDIANAPOLIS (May 19, 2011) – Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers Alex Tagliani and Townsend Bell each were in the top-five on the speed chart when Thursday’s practice session for the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 concluded.

Tagliani, driver of the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone for SSM, posted the second fastest lap of the day around 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a time and speed of 39.5340 seconds at 227.652 mph. The Canadian’s fast lap came on the 16th of his 18 total laps during the day.

Bell, who only competes in the Indianapolis 500 during the IZOD IndyCar Series season, was much busier as he completed 53 laps throughout the session in his No. 99 Herbalife24 Dallara/Honda/Firestone for SSM. He finished fifth on the practice chart as his 39th lap clocked in at 39.6928 seconds at 226.741 mph.

Penske Racing’s Will Power turned the fastest lap of the month late in the session when he toured the famous oval in 39.5121 seconds at 227.778 mph. His Penske Racing teammates Ryan Briscoe (39.6097 seconds at 227.217 mph) and Helio Castroneves (39.6604 seconds at 226.927 mph) were third and fourth, respectively.

Practice resumes Friday from noon to 6 p.m. EDT. At 6:15 p.m., on the Coca-Cola stage in the Pagoda Plaza, teams will draw for their order in the qualifying line on Saturday.

Townsend Bell, Driver of the No. 99 Herbalife24 Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:

Talk about practice today.

“We did a good amount of running. It was good to get out with the Herbalife car after the rain the last two days. We learned a lot and tried several things that were on our list. We’ve very comfortable.”

Is going for the pole a realistic goal for this team?

“I hope so. Tagliani’s car is a rocket ship. Every time I walk past it in the garage, I sort of rub by it with my arm hoping some of that speed dust sort of rubs off on me. I think we’re going to be OK.”

At the end of practice today your team spent several minutes working on pit stops. How important is that, not only for you, but also the team?

“It’s probably the most important thing we did today, quite frankly. We’ve got a quick car it seems, but you’ve got to get in and out of the pits. My guys need practice doing ‘hot’ stops, and I probably need the most practice. These cars aren’t that easy to get in and out of the pit box. It felt pretty good. We’ve got some tweaking to do, but it was great to get practice doing that.”

Alex Tagliani, Driver of the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:

Talk about practice today.

“We came here and we were in the window (of speed). All the winter work on the car and the massaging makes it even a little bit quicker. Right off the bat we’re fast and it takes away a little bit of pressure. It’s a good job by the guys.”

Talk about your lap of 227.652 mph.

“We did well today. We learned a lot. We had good track position and we weren’t in a lot of traffic. That lap (227.652 mph), I was behind Dario Franchitti, so I had a bit of a tow. But, it shows that the car is quick and capable of doing it. I think we still have more to come. We just need to make sure that when it comes time to do it, we have the right balance.”

Is going for the pole a realistic goal for this team?

“The way the car is running right now, for sure it is. I think we would be foolish to think that we couldn’t do it. But, the truth is that Penske and Ganassi have really good cars and they know thier way around this place. They have 10 times more experience than us. I’m sure by qualifying they’re going to do something amazing to their cars and all of a sudden they’re going to be up to the top and we’re going to end up fighting with them. But, if that happens, that’s OK. We should be proud that guys like Roger and Chip are looking at us, going ‘Why are those guys so quick?’ That’s kind of our mindset right now.”

Notes of Interest:

  • Daly Dose: Sam Schmidt Motorsports Firestone Indy Lights driver Conor Daly is racing in the World GP3 event this weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo Barcelone, Spain. Daly will practice on Friday, qualify on Saturday and drive in a race on Saturday and then again on Sunday. In GP3, which is a stepping stone to Formula 1, Daly drives for the prestigious Carlin team which has previously fielded cars for Formula 1 stars Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica. With three races complete on the Firestone Indy Lights Series schedule, Daly is in first in the championship point standings on the strength of a second-place finish in the season-opening event in March on the streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) and a win in April at the Long Beach (Calif.) Grand Prix. He is running a part-time schedule however, competing in only road course events and turns over the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy car to fellow Noblesville, Ind., resident Bryan Clauson, who will make his Indy Lights debut in the May 27 Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

  • If these walls could talk: The cars for Townsend Bell and Alex Tagliani are housed in garages A12-A16 in the southwest corner of Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is the 25th year of the current garage bays, which were constructed in time for the 70th Indianapolis 500 in 1986. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the current SSM section of the garage housed Galles Racing, including drivers Al Unser Jr., and Bobby Rahal. Unser Jr., won the 76th Indianapolis 500 in 1992 and his car was housed in garage A12. In 1995, Walker Racing worked out of the A12-A16 section of Gasoline Alley, and garage A12 was home to Christian Fittipaldi’s car that he drove to a second-place finish that year. The runner-up result earned him Rookie of the Year honors.

  • Playoff Hockey: Despite growing up in Montreal and following the tradition-rich Montreal Canadians, Alex Tagliani is closely following the progress of the Tampa Bay Lightning as they battle the Boston Bruins in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. Tagliani is close friends with Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier and at the season-opening IZOD IndyCar Series race on the streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.), Lecavalier was a guest of Tagliani’s. On race day, Lecavalier presented Tagliani with an authentic Lightning jersey while Tagliani reciprocated by giving Lecavalier one of his driving suits. 

“I really love hockey,” Tagliani said. “I play sometimes in the winter when I go home to Montreal. I like to play with friends. I root for the Lightning because I became friends with Vinny (Lecavalier). I support him and Simon Gagne (Lightning forward). So I’m basically just supporting a team with people you know and who you like.”

Despite his ties to the Lightning, Tagliani is getting some ribbing from his crew members for supporting Tampa Bay and not a Northeast Division team. Boston and Montreal are in the Northeast Division, along with the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.

“It’s a tough division the Bruins are in, and I really think that Alex should be rooting for a Northeast Division team,” said Mike ‘Mack’ McCormick, SSM’s transportation coordinator, who was raised in Boston.