Tagliani, Barracuda, BHA due for a luck turnaround

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Ardent observers of this year’s IZOD IndyCar Series will note a few drivers’ results have not accurately reflected their pace. Alex Tagliani, for the Bryan Herta Autosport/Barracuda Racing team, is one of those.

Once BHA switched from the woeful Lotus powerplants to Hondas a year ago – which meant they withdrew from the race at Sao Paulo, Brazil – Tag and the No. 98 Barracuda team were a revelation. Qualifying as the second fastest Honda at Indianapolis was followed by four consecutive appearances in the Firestone Fast Six on road and street courses.

Tagliani was one of only four drivers (Will Power, Dario Franchitti, James Hinchcliffe) to post such a streak. The Lotus experience made the team stronger, because it allowed them to better develop the car to compensate for the horsepower deficit.

“It was bad memories and frustrating, but we really worked hard to compensate and from the moment we got the Hondas, the boys were prepared and the pace was really good,” Tagliani said in a phone interview Monday. “There were lots of little glitches from not being used to the Honda with software and things like that. We paid the price and that was normal. But our pace was fantastic at that point.”

This year, despite qualifying positions of 17th, 15th and 21st, and only one top-10 finish (10th at St. Petersburg), both team and driver are actually ahead of their pace a year ago. The endings haven’t been happy yet because of poor luck, but the package is substantially improved.

“Where we’re at right now, I’m not too afraid of the pace and performance,” Tagliani said. “But I’m gonna go light some candles at Church, or I’m gonna try some weird (stuff) to get our luck back. The only race where we were not up to par was St. Pete.”

The reason for that was the team had not yet found the right setup balance on the 2013 Firestone tire compounds. BHA tested only twice in the offseason, once at Sebring in December on the 2012 compounds, and at the official preseason test in Barber in March.

From Barber, Tagliani has often ended practice sessions in the top five, but has seemingly drawn the short stack in qualifying every group. Quicker times don’t necessarily translate to advancing if one group’s collective times beat another’s.

“We were good on the 2012 tires – like second or third at Sebring – and then it took a weekend to dial the 2013 ones in,” he said. “We’ve already progressed. The blacks or reds just change the balance and sometimes you’re better on one or the other.”

Long Beach was another exercise in frustration – a run from 21st, near Marco Andretti and eventual podium finisher Justin Wilson – had Tagliani up to the top 10 by lap 32 before contact with Charlie Kimball at Turn 8. Kimball didn’t have a chance at making the corner and when Tagliani turned in, the collision was inevitable.

Still, Tagliani praises the team’s continuity and his own level of dedication to maintain the high performance. At 40, he’s the oldest full-time driver in the series, but you wouldn’t know it by his fitness regimen.

“We have the continuity, and we have the chemistry,” he said. “You think those things are overrated but they’re not. I’m in the best shape physically I’ve been in. I don’t need to say much to interact with the guys – we just get it. We know where we need to be and work as a group. We’ve already regrouped and got the car back. Now we just need the luck.”

Al Unser Jr. to race Pikes Peak Hill Climb for first time in 29 years

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Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. is coming out of retirement to race again.

Unser Jr., who turns 56 on April 19, will compete in the 96th Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on June 24. It will be the first time Unser has raced at Pikes Peak in 29 years, since the 1989 event.

Unser won the Hill Climb and was named “King of the Mountain” in the 1983 event.

Unser said in 2007 that he was retiring from racing and had no plans to race in the future. However, he has taken part since then in some selected vintage racing events.

Speaking of vintage cars, Unser is slated to drive a 1936 Chevrolet Sedan in this year’s Hill Climb, according to race organizers.

He’ll compete with a number of luminaries including eight-time Hill Climb winner Paul Dallenbach; Layne Schranz, who will be competing in his 25th “Race to the Clouds”; 23-time champion Clint Vahsholtz; 25-time Hill Climb competitor David Schmidt II and three-time Climb winner Spencer Steele.

Unser recently returned to IndyCar racing as a consultant with Harding Racing, which is beginning its first full season in the series with Gabby Chaves behind the wheel.