An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, everyone. Today we have the pleasure of being joined by two of Canada’s top drivers, Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani, as we prepare for Saturday’s Montreal 200 GRAND-AM Rolex Series race at Circuit Gilles Villenueve.
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Paul will be driving for the fifth time this season, running with Action Express in the No. 5 Corvette DP for the first time. Paul will be co-driving with David Donohue, and that will be the first time also.
Paul, what are your thoughts driving at Montreal for the first time in a Daytona Prototype?
PAUL TRACY: I think it’s great. This is a great opportunity for me to get in a current spec car with Action Express and a Corvette motor. So I’m excited. I haven’t driven the new style cars, so I’m excited to get the opportunity, and actually yesterday went to Watkins Glen and made a seat in the parking lot of the hotel where the team was camped out with Donohue.
So we had an opportunity to meet and go over our strategies for the weekend, and we’ll fly up to Montreal tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Paul. Alex Tagliani is going to be joining the hottest team in the Rolex Series and in an unusual role. He’s scheduled to drive the Indianapolis winning Ford/Riley with Alex Popow. But first he’ll start the Watkins Glen winning Ford/Riley for Ryan Dalziel, in addition to that, he’ll also be running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, the NAPA Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge.
Alex, what are your thoughts looking forward to a busy week and in your hometown?
ALEX TAGLIANI: It will be my first opportunity to drive a DP car, so I asked a bunch of questions to the guys that have driven those type of cars, and I’ve looked at the schedule.
There is quite a bit of track time as well to get used to it.
But mainly the role is to do a good job for the team. I know there is a championship at stake, and I’ll try to support Ryan the best I can, and then take over the car from Alex.
I guess, my size, I fit perfectly in both cars without too much to do. So with what’s been happening lately with Starworks, they decided to put me in the car, in both cars for the race, so I’m looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We’ll go to the media for questions.
Q. I was wondering, do you still have your Mexican wrestlers costume available for the fans in Montreal?
PAUL TRACY: I was just thinking about that. All we need is Bourdais there and we could have a really good fight this weekend.
But, no, I’m excited to come back to Montreal and race. Obviously, it’s not Toronto or Edmonton. Alex will have the lion’s share of the fans, and I’m sure I’ll have some guys in the stands that’s want to come and maybe try to beat me up a little bit.
Q. Alex, I was surprised. I was in Watkins Glen when I first heard that you were going to be in the Ford/Riley. Was this something that you actively sought out or did it come as a surprise to you?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, I spoke with Peter (Baron) a while back, and obviously I know Ryan very well and there was some thoughts. And I know the team during the Indianapolis race and obviously with what happened after that, you know, there was a possibility for me to join the team with Ryan. But also Bourdais was not able to make it in Montreal because he’s testing in Sonoma with pretty much every other team in IndyCar there, but I’m not making that test, so I was available. The team started to register me for both cars. But it happened pretty late. You know, we had some trial starting at Indianapolis.
Q. Will this help you in the Nationwide? Most drivers will say the more track time you get, the better it is?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Yeah, I think the Nationwide car is a very good car. Obviously Sebastien won with that car. I’m hoping to do a good job. Last year I finished second, so I have pretty high hopes, but you never know. This race is pretty tough. Turn one and two are always the determining factors in this particular race over the years.
But I’m hoping with the car and the team that I have at Turner Motorsports we’ll be able to do a good job.
With regards to the DP, it’s cool because I’ve always been very curious about those cars. I watch the race on TV all the time, and I spoke to P.T. in Indianapolis previously, and he said the cars are fun to drive. So as a race car driver, unless you drive it and you try it, you don’t know, and you always have this curiosity inside of you that wants to do it. This is a good opportunity for me because I know the track and the cars at Starworks are pretty quick.
Hopefully, having this experience in those cars maybe I’ll end up being able to have an open door for the Daytona 24 hours in the future. So it’s something that I was not going to let pass.
Q. P.T., I understand that a number of teams did contact you about running in the Nationwide Series, specifically the MacDonald Motorsports No. 81 car. How close were you to signing a deal?
PAUL TRACY: Well, we talked to a couple of teams, but obviously when this deal came up a couple weeks ago, I want to put all my focus into the Action Express team and not dilute the whole weekend jumping from one car to another. This is an opportunity for me to hopefully open the door for the next year and try to do the best job I can. I had an option to do a Nationwide car, but like I said, I didn’t want to be jumping back and forth from one car to another. I just want to focus on doing a good job for Action Express.
Q. Alex, I’m just wondering about the Nationwide race, and what drivers you’re looking out for most as challenging for the win? And the second half of that is you have a chance to go for a double win in Montreal on the weekend. How big would that be?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, overall, it would be fantastic. But starting with the Nationwide, that was my main program at the beginning. I know very well Trent Owens, the crew chief on the 30 car. We started talking with the team a while back, and we definitely want to do a good job to have a really good competitive car for me to do that.
The usual suspects, I would say. Jacques in the Penske 22 car is going to be pretty strong. McDowell was looking pretty strong as well in Road America. I think the guys at JR Motorsports, they have good cars. Last year in the last moment of the race I had to fight with Ron to get into the lead.
But more and more and more, the NASCAR guys are learning the track. They get their cars started to what they like to drive, and they’re very competitive now. It’s not as clear as before, because we knew the track very well, and we had a little advantage. When the race starts because of these restarts and the way the track is configured, it’s very difficult to know who is going to make it out of there until the last lap, basically.
But for the DP, really, I think it’s just a question of being a very, very good teammate to Ryan for his chance in the championship and do a real good job with Alex and run strong. It’s something I always wanted to try, the DP cars, to get experience in the cars and give me a chance to do the 24.
So, yeah, like Paul was mentioning before, it’s tough to dilute your focus and your program over a weekend with two different categories, but chances like this to try a DP car don’t happen very often, especially when you’re doing 100% races with the DP car. So I didn’t want to say no. But it’s really to try to complement the team and not try to reinvent the wheel. I know the track very well, so I think I can do a good job for those guys.
Q. A few years ago on the road courses a lot of NASCAR guys used to be pretty lost. You saw some big crashes from some of the younger guys. Can you talk about how the quality of the racing has improved over the years that they’ve been in Montreal and on road courses in general?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I think a lot of the NASCAR teams put emphasis on road course testing and they have coaches. Mach is doing a good job for a couple of guys in the NASCAR series and he’s a good road racer.
With the chance to race with guys like Ron Fellows and on different teams, Boris Said, and so on and so forth, the guys are starting to learn. The word is getting out, and some guys are changing their driving style from right foot braking to left foot braking.
I think they started from pretty down low in Montreal because they’ve never seen it before. So the discrepancy before was bigger, but I think it got way, way tighter. We’ve seen guys last year running pretty strongly until the end, and surprisingly it’s very competitive now.
It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a very tight race, I think, and with some other teams that are picking up as well on the road course set-up.
Q. I’m just wondering, you’re not in IndyCar this year and not a full-time ride for a couple of years. Now you’re looking at GRAND-AM. Do you see your career kind of making a transition into something different, and how do you feel about that?
PAUL TRACY: I’m fine with that. Obviously, I had a great, long career in IndyCar. I raced IndyCars for 22 years, and it doesn’t go on forever. Now that I’ve been out of IndyCar for almost a year now, my focus has really changed and what is the next phase of my career and what I want to do.
I’ve always dabbled a little bit in GRAND-AM. I’ve always enjoyed the racing the most high Tech cars in terms of an ALMS car or something like that. What I like about the GRAND-AM cars is the field is very equal. The cars at first, and the last is usually within less than a second and the racing is really good.
You don’t have one car that is so much better than the rest like an Audi against the rest of the non-factory teams like you have in World Endurance.
The racing is really competitive. There is a lot of good racing and beating and banging and guys that are really racing hard with each other for two to three-hour races and then you have 24 Hour races when you have two to three cars battling and banging wheels at the end of the 24 Hour race, and I really enjoy that part of it. This is what I would like to do next year full-time.
Q. Would you sort of say, not that you didn’t have fun in your IndyCar career, but is this more fun racing for the sheer joy of it rather than anything else? You always want to be competitive and do well. But it seems that you don’t really need to do this anymore?
PAUL TRACY: No, obviously I want to race because I still love to race and this is a great avenue for me to get what I’d like to get out of the racing side of it. The racing world obviously, any racing driver will tell you that you’re not going to get rich being a sports car driver, but I still have the passion to drive. I still have a lot of passion to be in a race car, and these cars are a lot of fun to drive, which makes it even more fun.
Q. Just a suggestion. You did have issues with Tag in San Jose. You can bring the wrestling suit for him.
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, we’ll have a good time seeing each other. We haven’t seen each other in almost a year, so it will be good to hook up again and see each other.
Q. Starting off with Alex here, you raced NASCAR and I think you almost won the race last year in Montreal. Do you have any plans of maybe coming to NASCAR full-time when you’re done racing with IndyCar or anything?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, I would have made the jump a long time ago and not really full-time right away but to pay your dues and to learn. Those cars are really difficult to drive, and you need to allow yourself a period of adaptation, learning the track, understanding how the car changes throughout the race so you can be an asset to your crew chief to set the car up for did have conditions. Running the car on new tires and running the car on old tires, things like that.
So, yeah, I would have loved to make a more settled condition and having progressed into NASCAR by now, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy to get in. People have a tendency not to fully be comfortable with an open-wheel driver or give you a chance.
I think Paul can even talk more about it, because I know he tried really hard to get in at some point, and it’s not easy. Montreal, I think, yeah. I’m here, I have some good sponsors that are following me. The local market is nice for them to showcase their product and to have another race to have a window of opportunity to be promoted.
But other than that, I don’t know how. I’m talking to various different people that know the NASCAR world, and starting to get in in different ways, but it’s tough. I won’t lie. The wish is there.
I would definitely like to try to make the jump more seriously.
Q. Paul, I know I was looking at some statistics on you in your past racing career on Racing Reference, and which racing suit that you raced in was the most difficult to adapt to and why?
PAUL TRACY: That’s a difficult question to answer, because every type of car that you drive, whether it be an IndyCar or a sports car or NASCAR, all are completely different from each other. And every series has guys that are tougher in every car. GRAND-AM you have the guys that are through it. And Memo Rojas, and you have, obviously Ryan Dalziel, and these guys are really, really good at driving sports cars.
Obviously, in NASCAR you have guys like Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. They’re really, really good at what they do. And in IndyCar, you have guys like Dario that are really, really good. So to jump from one to another and try to do all of it now, it’s pretty tough to do, because guys are — the top guys are really good at the cars they drive.
With the times of guys like Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, who would jump from a sports car to a stock car one week and do a Formula 1 race, those times are pretty tough to do now.
But we all love to drive all these different types of cars, but like Alex, it’s very difficult to get into good rides, because it is so specialized now.
Q. Paul, I know you’ve had a few Daytona Prototypes under your belt. Have you found that anything has changed in your driving style coming from IndyCar to the Daytona Prototype?
PAUL TRACY: Not so much. The GRAND-AM cars, the DP cars, they handle pretty much like a road racing car. Obviously, they’re not an IndyCar, but when you ask it to do something, it responds pretty well.
Having driven in NASCAR before, it is kind of the opposite of that. If you try to muscle a car around and make it do what it doesn’t want to do, then that’s where you struggle.
So I think that’s one of the big problems with a lot of open wheel guys have when they try to transition from an open wheel car to a stock car is it just is not going to react like the road racing car. The cars are built to run on all wheels.
From that standpoint, transitioning to a GRAND-AM car, it’s not that big of a transition because the car reacts and does a lot of the same things. Set-up stuff is fairly similar, so it’s not a big transition.
Q. Alex, on the Daytona Prototype front, what are you most looking forward to this weekend? When you hang up your hat in IndyCar, would GRAND-AM be an avenue you’d look into?
ALEX TAGLIANI: It’s been an avenue for a long time. Somehow I’ve been trying to do the 24 Hour for a long time, but it never happened. Guys get rides very quickly.
I would like to do it in a very good way, so that’s why when the opportunity came with Starworks knowing that it’s a very strong team, I knew I had a pretty big weekend ahead of me with the Nationwide. But I really wanted to give it a shot and be able to put myself out there in a DP car.
Maybe next time when I call teams to do the 24, I’ll be able to say, yeah, I have some experience in a Daytona Prototype car. Because when you ask them to be in a car for the 24, the 24 Hour race is so important, so huge, they don’t want to take the risk with a guy that’s never driven a car like that.
So hopefully this will be the beginning. Definitely looking forward to trying those cars. They look cool from a distance. I mean, lap time, they get a lot closer to an IndyCar around Montreal.
So, yeah, it’s been like something inside of me that I wanted to do for a long time, and I’m definitely very excited to do it in Montreal, especially.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us today, Paul and Alex, and best of luck this weekend in Montreal.