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.”
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.