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Does Tags Have One More Surprise Left In Him?

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 28 2011

Las Vegas doesn't think much about Alex Tagliani's chances in in Sunday's Indianapolis 500. But Vegas didn't think much about his chances to win the pole, either. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Indianapolis – Most years the driver who wins the pole for the Indianapolis 500 is a favorite to win the race.

This year, not so much.

While fellow front-row starter Scott Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti, starting ninth in the 33-car field, are the co-favorites in Las Vegas at 4/1, Pole-winner Alex Tagliani is listed behind them at 13/2, meaning you’d win $13 for every $2 you bet if he wins.

Actually, that might not be a bad bet.

Tagliani, a 38-year-old French Canadian, has been the surprise of the month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Tags, as he is known, has been among the fastest drivers on the 2.5-mile oval since practice began and wound up easily winning the pole for Sunday’s Centennial Indy 500 with a four-lap average of 227.474 mph.

He backed that up Friday in the “Carb Day’’ practice by trailing only Dixon on the speed

Alex Tagliani emerged from his car after qualifying a happy man.

chart for the one-hour final session.

“I feel my car’s very racy,’’ Tagliani said. “I love it in traffic. We got some consistency out of the car on older tires.’’

Pausing for a moment to digest what he had just said, Tagliani smiled and added, “It seems to be just unreal, too good to be true, sometimes.

“I want to think we deserve it. It’s not because we’re not (Team) Penske or Ganassi. We did maybe everything better than anybody else.’’

Tagliani has accomplished all of this driving for the unheralded team of Sam Schmidt, a former IndyCar driver who became a quadriplegic in a testing crash in 2000 and who has overcome tremendous odds himself to become a successful car owner in the second-tier Firestone Indy Lights Series.

Tagliani started his own team several years ago, but it was taken over this year by Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

The move to the IZOD IndyCar Series is a big leap, but Schmidt and Tagliani have certainly given big teams like Team Penske and Ganassi something to think about. Not only that, but a second Schmidt driver, Townsend Bell, will start fourth in Sunday’s race.

Tagliani said Schmidt has been an inspiration to him.

“You know, I was thinking the other day that, in light of what Sam has to go through ever day, when I complain or whine about the little crappy things in my life going wrong, it’s no comparision,’’ Taglian said.

“Sam doesn’t let his handicap stop him or even slow him down, and I have so much

Sam Schmidt and Alex Tagliani are taking on the big boys.

admiration for him and what he has accomplished. I think we can really accomplish a lot together.’’

Compliments and admiration are fine, but Schmidt just wants to be considered a racer.

“For me, I’ve done a lot of things all my life,’’ Schmidt said. “The thing that made getting up in the morning worthwhile, beyond my faith and my family pushing me, was the ability to come out here and compete.

“I make no bones about it; I’d much rather be racing in the driving seat rather than in the owning seat, but this is definitely the second best thing, and (winning the Indy pole) is really special at the end of the day.’’

The combination of Tagliani and Schmidt got off to a fast start, even before arriving in Indianapolis.

In the four races so far this season, Tagliani has produced two top-10s and goes into the race sixth in the 2011 points.

Indy has also been a good track for Tagliani.

He was the rookie of the year here in 2009, starting last and finishing 11th. Last year, Tagliani qualified fifth and finished 10th.

“This place can be very, very good to you or very, very bad,’’ Tagliani said. “I feel comfortable here. But you’re only as good as your car and your team. So far, everything this month has been great. Hopefully, we can say the same thing late Sunday afternoon.’’

Alex Tagliani is ready to hit the bricks.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 28 2011
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