Tagliani Jumps To Top Of Speed Chart At 225.8

Monday, May 16, 2011

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Alex Tagliani had reason to smile May 16, as he led Indianapolis 500 practice with a lap of 225.878 mph.

Practice Results

Three hours before the green flag flew to start the six-hour practice session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Alex Tagliani bounded into the Sam Schmidt Motorsports garage and started preparing for the day's activity.

"He's amped up," team owner Sam Schmidt laughed following the daily engineering meeting.

Stretching out the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time was the best remedy for two weeks of on-track inactivity since the IZOD IndyCar Series race in Brazil for the Quebec native, and he enjoyed the ride. Tagliani topped the speed chart with a best lap of 225.878 mph.

Seven different teams were represented in the top 10 as 39 drivers recorded 1,379 laps in a stiff, cool breeze without incident. Rookie Jay Howard was the lone entrant not to make an appearance -- by design based on tire management. The field was separated by a scant 1.2 seconds.

Scott Dixon (225.124) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Graham Rahal (225.071) of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, Ryan Briscoe (225.016) of IZOD Team Penske and Oriol Servia (224.903) of Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing filled out the top five.

A year ago, preparations for the Indianapolis 500 didn’t kick off as Tagliani would have planned.

“One of the biggest fears in my mind during my years of racing has been being sick in the car or being sick during a race weekend, and I’ve been lucky enough that it’s only happened once,” said Tagliani, referencing competing in a race in Australia while recovering from food poisoning. “When I went to the hospital to get some antibiotics, they put me in the emergency room and then they said, ‘We have to transfer you upstairs and keep you.’

“That’s when my heart started beating very fast, and I said ‘I can’t stay.’ And they asked why. And I said, ‘I have to go run at the Speedway.’ They asked if I was a driver, and I said, ‘Yes, it starts the next day.’ So they put me in the intensive care and they gave me extensive breathing treatments and put me on antibiotics, and they kept me for 48 hours.”

Tagliani, who was diagnosed with asthma as a youth, didn’t participate on Opening Day and ran only 17 laps the next day “because I couldn’t really breathe in the car.” But a week after his hospital stay, he qualified on the second row for the 500 Mile Race.

“It definitely started in a way that I didn’t think I would get out of it,” said Tagliani, who finished in 10th place.

He’s looking for more this May, and is enthused because of the addition of Townsend Bell, a four-time Indy 500 starter who was 19th on the speed chart May 16 (223.324), as a teammate at the Speedway. Tagliani, who has a pair of top-10 finishes in the four IZOD IndyCar Series street/road courses, runs solo the rest of the season.

“Our challenge at the other races is we’re by ourselves, so if we start the weekend when our car is in the window we can fight for a top-five finish,” said Tagliani, the ’09 Indy 500 Chase Rookie of the Year who’s seventh in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship standings. “When we are out of the window, it is very difficult with the limited time of running. We’re missing the first session, and we don’t have anybody we can fall back on (for data). Even the changes sometimes work and sometimes don’t work, so then we’re missing a session and burning tires for nothing.

“Here, what’s exciting is that we’ll be able to work with other people, look at data and increase our pace. We already had the pace last year and we’ll start in the window, and with other people I think we’ll be a pretty strong team this year.”

As the one-day snapshot of track activity revealed, there will be a number of strong teams rising for Tom Carnegie Pole Day (May 21) and the 100th anniversary race May 29. Dixon, Rahal, Briscoe, Dario Franchitti -- the reigning Indy 500 champion of Target Chip Ganassi Racing -- Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport, Vitor Meira of A.J. Foyt Racing, and Team Penske's Helio Castroneves have been in the top 10 both days of practice as teams progress through their test programs.

"I think we evolved a little bit from where we were on Saturday when we last ran," Meira said. "I think the ABC Supply car is competitive, but it’s hard to tell exactly how competitive we are at this point. The car is good, but we’ll be able to tell how good later in the week when we really start dropping the hammer -- as will everyone else. In preparation for that, today was a good day.”

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