There’s a light in Alex Tagliani’s eyes as he excitedly browses through his phone’s picture album. He finds the one he is looking for and raises it up for Racing.GT to see.
“Just look at this car, can you imagine?”
42-year-old Tagliani, best known for winning pole position for the Centennial Indianapolis 500 in 2011, is pictured grinning from ear to ear in the Zakspeed 881 which Bernd Schneider took to 12th place in the 1988 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim and is evidently relishing his recent change of scene.
For 2016, Tagliani will drive a Mercedes-AMG GT3 entered by Zakspeed alongside JF Laberge and Darryl O’Young in an all-Canadian assault on the Blancpain Endurance Cup, which gets underway this weekend at Monza. It’s quite the departure from lapping the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in excess of 220 mph (Tagliani’s pole time was at an average speed of 227.472 mph)…
“Sportscar racing is gaining a lot of popularity, but as much as fans are really excited and impressed with the cars, us as drivers, we are too,” he says. “The new GT3 cars are definitely up there in regards of technology and with the addition of downforce and when you see cars like the Mercedes, the Lamborghinis and the Audis, you think ‘wow!’ You talk amongst drivers, hear what people say and all of a sudden it becomes an interest.
“Now I’m a very allergic guy to nuts, so when I go to eat in a restaurant I’ll always have chicken and veggies – all very boring – but in racing it’s like having everything on the menu. You do IndyCar, NASCAR, sportscars, you race in Dubai and try all kinds of different tracks. Instead of racing one car all your career, you’ll be able to say ‘I drove there, or I drove that car.’”
Tagliani’s only prior experience of racing in Europe was with CART/ Champ Car, which visited Rockingham, Brands Hatch, the Lausitzring, Zolder and Assen between 2001 and 2007. But while GT racing is something of an alien environment, Tagliani does at least have some non-open wheel experience to fall back on, having raced at Daytona, Bathurst and even in NASCAR, his charge from 23rd to second in the final two laps of the Xfinity Series race at Road America in 2014 the stuff of legend.
“I’m always trying to be appreciative of everything that happens to me in my career, I’m embracing driving for Zakspeed and Mercedes and being here on beautiful circuits like this – driving at Monza, Nürburgring, Spa – it’s going to be something I will really enjoy,” he said. “I really like the cars and I really like the way people operate; honestly I’m thinking it’s going to be the next step for me to try and do it more often. You have to see it to know it and now that I’ve seen it, it will be hard to leave, right? So the more I can get my feet in it and establish myself as a sportscar driver the better.”
Indeed, the French-Canadian admits that he is even considering learning German to assist communications with his mechanics.
“I speak three languages, French, Italian and English – to show respect for who you race with, it’s always good to know a few phrases or sentences that fit well in the world of racing, but probably not the whole language because I think it’s a very difficult language to learn!”
Tagliani is not underestimating the extent of the challenge that faces him competing against the Pro Cup field with a new car that arrived late and has relatively few miles on it, plus a bunch of new circuits to learn, but – in his words – the team are “not going to Monza to eat pizza.”
“Everyone wants to win, if I wanted to parade then I will get into a sportscar, go to downtown Montreal and parade on Sunday afternoon,” he said. “I would love to be a Silver like Scott Pruett but I’m not, and that doesn’t allow for any more track-time, so those things are going to be challenging. But if the Mercedes is competitive and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be, then I want to run up front, that’s the only thing that will make me happy. If we’re running in the back it’s going to be bad, but you can’t sell the chickens before they hatch.
“Normally I’m pretty good at adapting, I jumped into Penske’s NASCAR and didn’t have much track time when I did those races, that was quite heavy and quite hard to drive, so hopefully with downforce and a lighter car it will help me adapt a bit quicker – I think I’ll be okay.”