CART Media Conference
August 27, 2001
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon. Our guest today is driver Alex Tagliani of Players Forsythe Racing who currently owns the longest active streak of points paying finishes in the FedEx Championship Series. Good afternoon, Alex and thank you for joining us today.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Thank you very much.
T.E. McHALE: Alex, the driver of the No. 33 Players Indeck Ford Reynard has scored Championship points in seven straight events dating to a 12th place finish at Portland. The streak also includes a career best runner-up result at Toronto. In addition to finishes of 6th at Michigan and Chicago, 7th at Mid-Ohio, 8th at Road America, and 9th last week at -- excuse me, Alex has scored 48 of 49 Championship points in his past seven starts and has moved from 25th to 14th place in the FedEx Championship Series in that span. Heading into this weekend's Molson Indy Vancouver at Concord Pacific Place Championship he stands 14th in the FedEx Championship Series Championship with 49 points. The Molson Indy Vancouver, Round 15 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised on ESPN2 on Sunday, September 2, beginning at 6 P.M. eastern time. Just to finish Alex's list of points paying finishes that 9th place came at Cleveland. With that, we'll open it up to questions for Alex.
Q. Just would like to know what do you attribute to this long run of finishing in the points; what is happening with your car and yourself and Team Players?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I think -- I cannot really find a really good reason because at the beginning of the season my car was running as fast as it is right now. I think it was just a question of always being at the wrong spot at the wrong time. We were really competitive in Mexico, we were running a Ford, I think just before the car took fire on our last pitstop and in Long Beach I think we had the fastest car starting from the weekend, just got run from behind by Paul and same thing in Nazareth with Gil and then in other road courses we didn't have the chance to qualify in the fast group so we were a little bit penalizing. And just having a couple of -- DNF (did not finish) in Japan and other places, so it was just a very bad period. We didn't change the car. We didn't do anything special, so the Players Team is just continuing to work the way they did at the start of the season. And the good thing of that is that they just kept their positive attitude; kept in believing in what they were doing, and suddenly you know, we go to Toronto, we have a very fast car, the way it was in Long Beach, and we qualify up front, clean race, and we're on the podium. From then we just did some really good running and we finished in the points every race so -- in the Top-10, so that's good. We're, I think, 5 or 7 points away from being Top-10 in the points so I would like to be in the Top-10 after Vancouver.
Q. Can you just tell me what sort of influence Tony Cicale has had on you this year?
ALEX TAGLIANI: A couple of things. Tony is a very experienced guy. He's really aware of what is going on in CART for racing strategy and different stuff and he's just giving confidence to myself and Kelly Loewen that is in charge of the car as the chief engineer at the shop because Tony comes only for the race. We know that we have Tony and in we're in trouble we know he's going to help us. He became my race engineer at the track. I am always in constant communication during the weekend to set the car up and we kind of learn to work with each other and he knows what I like and he knows the way I like to drive the car now and he's really able to bring the car to the level I like. I think also always keeping in mind that races are totally different than qualifying. That's why I am probably doing good racing at this stage of the season, with a car that's reliable at the same time and if we continue to do that, our goal is trying to finish in the Top-10 for the rest of the year and maybe a win.
Q. What about mentally, Tony seems like such a laid back guy, does he have like a calming effect on you at all?
ALEX TAGLIANI: He thought I was pretty calm. I mean, he didn't think he had to calm me down. He's able to see different things with different perspective and I think in a team there's so many people working that a lot of people have good potential and I think he's able to get the potential out of each person and make them work at their 100% and that's -- he's able to do that with me and he's able to do that with other people. So I have strength and weakness and he's really working with my strength right now and make sure that we're not going to touch the weakness part.
Q. Is your backyard finished yet?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Close. Close. I think in Vegas there's only one speed and it's reverse. It's really, really slow to have things done. But it is coming along. I am really excited because I mean, when I go back to my house I like to just relax and spend time looking at the view and training a little bit, swim, but until it is not going to be done I am going to be really on the phone and try to find out if people are working in my backyard.
Q. You were saying before that really the car is not different from early in the season. It is just early in the year you some bad luck and some things went wrong. Where do you think -- with the car the way it is, where do you think you might have been now had you had, say, a better start to the year and how far away is your car from being a Championship car from winning?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I think we're getting closer and closer every race. But you never know what to expect in a CART race. We qualify second in Elkhart Lake. I think we were running fast. I was third last year in qualifying. I was leading the race every year at that track, you know, we have good setup and we're fast. But last year broken axle and this year with all the confusion and everything, you know, we just got, you know, like a little bit penalized with the strategy with other teams and fuel and stuff like that. So you cannot predict or even go to a race with a very high expectation. I think we need to go there with confidence. We know that we have a very competitive car and we just need to work always to do the best we can and keeping in mind that we want to win, but it is not sure. Nothing is sure. If we continue to do what we're doing, it is going to come to us. We don't need to force ourselves or try to change things to win. We have a car to win, just, you know, everything needs to be in place. I mean, there's 10 cars that can win the race in Vancouver in my opinion, and the one who is going to win is the one that's going to have a perfect weekend, or a perfect race or perfect timing in every aspect of the strategy and everything. So it needs to come to you.
Q. A few weeks ago Patrick was on the conference call and talked a little about how Bruce Ashmore has really helped him but he also mentioned at the time that he felt like there was more cooperation between the people on the two cars than there had ever been on the team. Do you feel that way too and maybe why has that happened this year?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I think in our team, in Players, we have a very good engineer and very good people working on the cars. My crew, my crew chief, Roy, and all my guys, they are very good. But I think Bruce, Neil Micklewright, Tony, Kelly and Michael Cannon, they are more organized and maybe it comes from the fact that last year we knew honestly that we had a terrible car on road course and street course. So Bruce came on board and I think he's in charge of the technical aspect into the team and he's working with Pat on the weekends, and he's making sure that all the strength that all the members the engineering side and the crew and everybody that works on the car have, they do the best job they can have their capabilities. And by doing that he's improving the work; he's improving speed into the car and we're a much better team. But there's a lot of people that are still in Players Forsythe that were there last year. But I think there's a better organization and it becomes from the fact that our car was not good and they were tired of that and they put good people on board to organize that. And taking all the strength of everybody, and putting it at the right side at the right time, to working on the right things, and it is just improving every little bit on the car and all around the team is just better.
Q. Tell me a little bit about the Vancouver track and what you like and don't like about it?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I like every track. There's not a track that I don't like. It is fun to have different configurations, different track like ovals, street course, road course, super speedway, it is less boring in a Championship season. What I don't like about the Vancouver track is that -- most of the track when they are like is the problem of the passing, really long straight-a-way, but with a really fast corner in the middle and the turbulence you can lose the down-force in the front. You can't run behind a guy too close and with the layout of the straight-a-way in the back section, it is difficult to dive in and to pass people. So it makes for a very eye strategy of saving fuel and also no passing. But running by yourself, the track is really fun to drive because there's a fast, slow corner, mid-speed corner, really technical section, rough pavement, nice pavement, so there's a lot of interesting things in that track. It is just that when it is time for racing, the green flag drops there's no passing.
Q. You think you can qualify there -- I am trying to remember back how you have qualified here in the past...
ALEX TAGLIANI: Oh, not very good. But I think we were really fast Saturday morning practice, we were I think 5th and 7th and I had a problem with the electric of the cars and the engine so we qualified at the end of the field.
Q. Regarding passing, now I am thinking Turn 1, Turn 6 and maybe in a real gutsy move, Turn 11 as it goes on the start/finish --
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yeah.
Q. -- pretty accurate in that?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Turn 1, yes, you are going to see some passing. But not cars -- if you have like the top 7, 8 cars you are not going to pass in Turn 1 because the last turn in front of the pit lane is -- it's a third-gear corner and it's really at the speed where it becomes really important to keep the down-force in the front and when you are following too close, you can't pass because you need to get a gap and then by the time you get that gap back you are into the corner and braking.
Q. Turn 6?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Same thing at the end of the long straight-a-way we're coming out of a corner where you can really be close to a guy, that's really interesting, then you draft a guy, you get up to his gear box and then you have a fifth gear flatout corner in the back and really tough to be close to another car. Then the straight-a-way is kind of funky because you get to the braking zone and the wall on the left side ends up and you can go all way to the left and turn back to the right so there's a possibility to incident because you don't know if the guy is opening the door because that's his normal line or it's because he's braking in his floor and then you dive in and he turns into you and it is like possibility of incident. That's what I am saying, it's really difficult to pass. I think you can pass people that are running slower than you, but how much, and I don't see in CART the gap being really big into qualifying lap time.
Q. Obviously going into a weekend like this, do you visualize how you're going to perform; do you sort of think the weekend out?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yeah, I don't -- I don't visualize or try to expect something because you can be disappointed if it doesn't happen. The strength of our team right now is that we kept our focus and the positive into the team even though we had really six bad races at the beginning of the season and so the secret is not to expect and coming back strong. But when I approach a race I just, you know, approach it with confidence, honest confidence because I think the car is strong on that type of circuit. It was strong in Toronto. I don't see why it is not going to be strong in Vancouver. And then when the first practice start I am keeping really eye level of concentration into the team engineers, guys and car and try to take the best out of the car and push when it's time to push and be, you know, do the best you can. But expectation or visualize where I am going to end up, you know, if I start to do that I will visualize be on top of the podium every race.
Q. The street circuits are certainly unique for CART among open-wheel series in America. Do you like these circuits a lot and how important is it for you to do well in front of Canadian fans?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yeah, it's really important. You need to do well in front of your fans. Right now they come and support us twice a year. Canadian fans are really into the CART Racing. I think the interest of the CART Series in Canada is really high; so high that we're going to have three races next year and race in Montreal, so that's pretty good. And the street course are a good event. It's good for the crowd, for the fans. They have a very good sense of the speed when they see a race car going into the streets at 200 miles an hour. The atmosphere in the stands all around the track is really different than on an open road course like Mid-Ohio or Elkhart Lake. It seems that the city just live for that weekend and it is really going into the week. So it's good for the economy. It is good for the fans. It is good for everybody in the city. Like I said, the atmosphere when you are driving on the track, totally different. Being in between walls, surrounded by stands and crowd, it is totally different than the trees like Elkhart Lake, even though I think that Elkhart Lake is one of the nicest road course in the world. It is just different perspective, different feeling when you drive it, and if you like it, I think that's only a matter of if your car is working well. If it's working well on the speedway, on the road course, on a street course you are going to like the track. If your car is terrible, you are going to hate the track.
Q. What you are saying is you pull into victory lane in Vancouver and you will love this track; is that it?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Exactly. I would say this is the best track in the world (laughs).
Q. Next year you are going to Montreal?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yes.
Q. This is the first time CART has been in French Canada in a very long time. Do you that that will make a huge difference in the French Canadian population as far as their following the series or have they been the baseline race fans all this time?
ALEX TAGLIANI: They have been race fans all this time because they have a Formula 1 race down there at the track. And it's very popular. I raced there on the same track in the same weekend of Formula 1 in Atlantic, and really for, like, almost everybody that was there for qualifying stayed for the Atlantic race. The people that are in charge of promoting that event were in charge of the event for Formula 1 and they know what they are doing. They know everything about racing and if they are organizing a race in Canada and Montreal especially it's because they saw Montreal is going and they have a lot of fans for CART and the interest for CART in Montreal is just rising dramatically. So it's the proper time to bring CART into the city of Montreal. And Pat and myself being French Canadian, we were born in Montreal, it's just like a picture perfect for a very successful event.
Q. Are you in Las Vegas?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Calgary. I arrived in Calgary for some promotion here with Players and spent time with the media in Calgary just before Vancouver.
Q. Obviously you are on an upnote right now because you have been doing so well in the races. How did you keep your attitude up when things weren't going so well at the beginning of the year?
ALEX TAGLIANI: It was really easy because for myself what I am really looking forward is to -- I mean I am not just looking for the success looking at the end of 90 laps or 100-something laps we're doing. I am looking for strong team, a good car, and potential. That's what we had. I drive the car in Sebring in winter testing of 2001 and I drive the car in Sebring in 2000 and it was a totally different car to drive. So I was approaching the season really confidently because I thought the car was better. So more competitive than I thought the team was stronger; people in place were doing their job and really, really with a very positive attitude and with the, you know, the anger to win. That's -- I really like that attitude in a team. And even though it was not running right because we were not scoring points, I was still driving a very fast car and I was-it was easy to keep the attitude positive because I knew that when we're going to start being reliable and finishing races, there was no way we were not going to be in the Top-10.
Q. You have proven it so far. Hope the streak continues this weekend and thank you.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Hopefully. Thank you very much.
Q. You talked about your relationship with Tony in setting up the car; then you talked with Doug about this question about how you approach different turns at a track. Do you and Tony go out on the track when you get there on Thursday and take a ride around and talk about things as you are riding around or do you just go out and ride around by yourself?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Actually I don't see Tony until Friday morning. So I go out -- sometimes I go out with Kelly Loewen, that's the chief engineer at the racetrack and we're talking about the track and looking at different spots where maybe the car was lacking last year and you know, just bringing up some points where we can improve and sometimes I go around just by myself because there's not much to see with Kelly and Kelly probably knows the track, so I am just going and try to visualize the track by myself.
Q. What are you particularly looking for, any changes or any differences in the surface from what you remembered from the last time?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yes. I mean, when you have experience in CART, I know now all the cars are reacting. What is important in qualifying, what is important in the race and then I can bring that perspective to Kelly and also can tell him where the car was very weak last year; why I was not able to pass in the race at that particular spot and also where I was not quick enough in qualifying or where I had trouble to drive it very aggressively in a certain corner of the track where the car was too understeer or I was not able to put the power down. We were trying to find if the track has bumps or if because the surface is slippery or it was just because the car was not right. When we're able to see things like that and compare it with different corners on the track, we have a much better idea of what kind of compromise we're going to need to do in the race week for setup. Because there's no way you are going to have a perfect car. It is just -- you try to have the best car out there, everyone. But it is not going to be perfect. It never going to be perfect. So you know, like Tony says, if you are on pole, you are going to like your car. If you are not on pole, you are not going to like your car. So it is just the fact that you are trying to have the best car out of the 26 cars out on the track and do your best. You cannot expect to have a perfect car. So it is a full compromise thing that we're doing.
Q. I just want to know when Patrick did win this year I just wondered what that did sort of for your confidence too. Obviously as you have talked about you have an awful lot of confidence, you felt your car was right, but to see a guy like him go through a stretch and he had not won and had a lot of things happen, can you sort of tell me what it did for your confidence?
ALEX TAGLIANI: It didn't do like a big thing for the confidence because I think to be confident as a driver you need to feel that your car is right and when you drive and you feel that you have a competitive car, you are confident that it is close, it is coming and it is just like you are knocking on the door. The fact that Pat won the race I was really happy for him because we're friends and he has been through some really tough times. It's his fifth year in CART, so it was like the right time for him. It was like good for his confidence, for himself and also for his attitude and just for his career so I was really happy for him. And like when I was second in Toronto on the podium in front of the crowd, it is also really tough because I am the rookie on the team and it was a first podium for the team, so it was tough for him so I was really happy that he pulled it off in Michigan.
Q. I have a question for you about the qualifying changes this year. Do you feel that for your type of driving does that help you now that you only qualify on Saturday or did you prefer (inaudible) between the two days between the CART setup?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I mean I have a -- my opinion in qualifying is that last year, this year, it's not fair. It's not fair for nobody. I mean, qualifying, it's speed, all about speed. Racing and strategy, a little bit of luck, different things, but I think the fact that we're qualifying on Saturday, it's a good thing. I don't see the difference. The only thing is now that we don't have testing in the winter, you know, we need more running in the weekends and Friday becomes a test day. So I agree on that, it's pretty good. But on the two group thing, that's not good. There's too many margin -- too many things could affect a qualifying grid whether, you know, track condition, rubber, different (inaudible) running in the same weekend. You know, it's terrible. So when you qualify and when you're in the fast group on the street course, especially, you have an advantage. I don't think it is right because sometimes you show up to a weekend and there's going to be some guys that are in the first group and they will, you know, normally they will be like probably in the front qualifying in the second group and they deserve that in that particular weekend because their car is fast; their team is good; and they deserve to be in the front and they are not going to be because they are the first group and that, I don't think is fair. So I don't care qualifying on one day but I really like to see some changes into the qualifying procedure for the future.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks. We'll wrap it up for the afternoon. I want to thank Alex Tagliani of Players Forsythe Racing for joining us this afternoon. Alex, thank for being with us, best of luck in this weekend's Molson Indy Vancouver and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Thank you very much. Thank you Dawn.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of who you joined us this afternoon and good afternoon.
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