Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tagliani impresses in second-place finish at Montreal

Alex Tagliani powered to a 2nd-place finish in Saturday's NAPA Auto Parts 200
at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images

After battling a who's who of road course aces like Marcos Ambrose, Jacques Villeneuve and Robby Gordon, IZOD IndyCar Series driver and Montreal native Alex Tagliani wowed in Saturday’s NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villenueve.

The 2011 Indianapolis 500 pole winner finished second on his home soil, driving the No. 12 Hot Wheels Dodge for Penske Racing and thrilling the hometown crowd.

Tagliani, 38, an open wheel veteran who has been competing in IndyCar since 2008, exhibited his road racing skills on the 2.7-mile course, starting second and running in the top 5 most of the day.

Tagliani grabbed the lead for the first time on lap 47 in Saturday’s 74-lap event, and went on to lead twice for 11 laps. He lost the top spot with nine laps to go when eventual winner Ambrose flew past him. Tagliani and Gordon were racing hard for position when Gordon got into the back of Tagliani’s No. 12 on lap 69, which set up the race’s final restart.

When the green flag fell on the last three laps, Tagliani was unable to close in on Ambrose’s lead. But he held off Michael McDowell for second place after a spirited battle between the two.

Tagliani was grateful for the opportunity to race for Penske at his home track. Saturday’s race marked his third Nationwide Series start and his second at Montreal.

“I was so happy to have the good fortune to race for Penske Racing and drive the Dodge Challenger car this weekend. It was pretty quick,” Tagliani said after the race.

“We decided to go with a car that was very good on the long runs and very good on the tires. I think we had one of the fastest cars on the long runs, but all of those restarts were pretty tough for us. I’ve very proud, very thankful for all the help I had from Penske Racing. It was great to drive the Hot Wheels Dodge this weekend here in Montreal.”

Coming into Saturday’s race, Tagliani said driving the No. 12 car held a lot of significance for him. His racing idol and hometown hero Jacques Villeneuve drove the number to victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1978. This weekend, the two were teammates for Penske Racing, with Villeneuve behind the wheel of the No. 22 Dodge.

Halfway through the race, though, Tagliani was nearly swept up when Villeneuve and Ambrose collided after the race’s fourth caution.

“It was unfortunate for Jacques with what happened on one of the restarts,” Tagliani said. “When Jacques went wide in Turn 1 and went sideways, we almost got taken out. Two Penske cars in that scenario was not a good thing. I got on the brakes to make sure I wasn’t going to damage the car and do the best that I could to avoid chaos.”

“After that, we charged to the front, passed a couple of guys and raced clean with Michael (McDowell), Ron (Fellows),” Tagliani said. “It was penalizing for us to have all the restarts, but in the end, racing was clean with everybody. I tried to keep the nose of our car clean all day. That was key.”

Tagliani drives the No. 77 for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

In addition to two Nationwide starts at Montreal and Phoenix in 2009, Tagliani has raced in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and has five starts in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series. After Tagliani’s performance Saturday, this writer for one hopes it’s not too long before we see him in a stock car again.

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