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July 2, 2010

 

Tagliani BIG hit at O’Shea

IndyBob Ellis/staff photographer
IndyCar Series driver Alex Tagliani jokes with 16-year-old John Speicher outside O’Shea Tire on Tompkins Street Thursday afternoon. Tagliani was picking on Speicher about recently getting his driving permit. Tagliani is in Central New York to race at Watkins Glen on Sunday in the IndyCar Series Camping World GrandPrix at The Glen.

By TOM VARTANIAN
Staff Writer

If it was baseball, it would have been a home run. If football, it would be a long winning touchdown run in the closing seconds.
For Rich Borra and O’Shea Tire, it was like winning the Indianapolis 500 as IZOD INDYCAR Series driver Alex Tagliani made a 90-minute stop at their Tompkins Street business to meet race fans.
Tagliani was in Cortland as a promotional appearance for Firestone Tires, a major sponsor of the IZOD INDYCAR Series, and the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen race at Watkins Glen International Sunday. Those unable to make the race can watch it on ABC television at 3:30 p.m., seen locally on Time-Warner Cable Channel 9 or Channel 889 for digital customers.
The personable 37-year-old driver entertained fans and media members will stories and opinions on everything from his start in racing to NASCAR and Formula 1. The whole time was filled with big smiles, laughter and animated demonstrations.
The highlight was definitely his meeting with John Speicher. The 16-year-old had just gotten his learner’s permit earlier in the day and came to O’Shea Tire with his mother to get an autograph. By the time Speicher left, he had tickets to the Sunday’s race, all the autographs he would need and a special invitation to meet Tagliani at the famed road course and visit him in the garage area to see his No. 77 Honda-Dallara car and hauler.
Tagliani began his career in go-karts at 10 years old and spent nearly 13 years at that level before getting his first break, driving in the Toyota Atlantic Series in 1996. He finished in the top-five in points in 1997, 1998 and 1999 before finally getting noticed for a ride in the CART Series.Tagliani took over for ride of Greg Moore.
He won his first CART race in 2004 while his best points finish was seventh in both 2004 and 2005.
Tagliani moved to the IZOD INDYCAR Series in 2009 and had another highlight, winning the Chase Rookie of the Year honor at the Indianapolis 500.
As for this Sunday’s race, Tagliani only has a few laps in a rental car around the 3.4-mile long course during a test session and never really got any hot laps in his race car. That experience will start today during the 3:30 p.m. practice session.
“I have never driven the track,” Tagliani said. “I was fortunate enough to come here and set-up for a test session. I did two or three laps in the rental car and it started pouring rain. I never did a lap in the Indy car. I had to leave Watkins Glen without ever driving a lap on this wonderful track. I was pretty bummed out. I’m excited to be back and the weather is suppose to be nice. I can’t wait to get back on the track. It should be a fun track to drive and it will be challenging at the same time.”
Tagliani has four top-10 finishes this season and sits 13th in the points standings, not bad for his young FAZZT Race Team, which is in just its second full season in the IZOD INDYCAR Series. His best showing was a sixth-place effort in St. Petersburg, Florida. He finished 10th in the Indianapolis 500 and enjoyed sitting on the pole during much of the Saturday qualifying session before settling for a fifth-place starting spot.
“We still have some fixing and fine-tuning to do,”Tagliani said. “We purchased equipment from another team. It was equipment that was basically sleeping in another garage for two years. We bought that stuff in November and then we’re sitting on the front row at Brazil. We were on the pole three-quarters of the day at Indy. We qualified fifth there and at Kansas. We don’t always have the stuff for the best pit stops, but I think it’s easier to fix these little things than to try and find speed. We are happy we have speed. If everything was perfect and we were finishing 20th, it would be a problem. Since the details to fine tune are small, we are hoping to finish on the podium (top three) by the end of the year and maybe win a race. That would be big for us.
“It was an opportunity that came along,” he continued about being one of the partners in his new team. “My contribution to the team is driving and bring some sponsors. A good team needs good people to help with funding, getting sponsors, being a team owner. At the end of the day, it’s not me doing all that. I’m just a simple driver. It’s just nice to feel connected to the team.”
Tagliani will be forever linked to a devastating wreck in the CART Series as he hit Alex Zanardi, two-time series champion, broadside at 200 miles per hour during a September 15 race in EuroSpeedway in Klettwitz, Germany in 2001. Zanardi lost both his legs in the crash, but both drivers otherwise survived the incident.
Though it was truly upsetting what happened, Tagliani said some important safety measures came out of it.
“It was not a fun wreck to be involved in,” Tagliani said. “It is part of racing. There is always a risk. Since then a lot of things have changed. Speed (rev) limiters coming out of pit road and new intrusion panels by the legs to protect the driver. It is too bad that it takes a wreck like that to improve safety.”
Alex Tagliani won the hearts of the fans in Cortland Thursday, hopefully that can translate into a great run at Watkins Glen International Sunday.
— O’Shea Tire also hosted the street-legal two-seat Indy car last week , with fans getting a chance to enjoy a 2.8-mile ride through Cortland County. Rich Borra said about 20 people took the ride and nearly $500 was raised for the Cortland County “Toys for Tots” program.

To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard