IndyCar Series veteran Alex Tagliani had his first taste of Rolex GT action in a Ferrari F458 last weekend at Kansas, and after earning pole position and leading 47 laps en route to a sixth-place finish with teammate Jeff Segal, the French-Canadian wants more chances to drive for the Prancing Horse.
“I've driven many cars in my life, but I never thought I'd get to wear a Ferrari suit, drive a Ferrari car and do as well as we did,” he told RACER. “Seeing how the team works, how Ferrari's PR department works, and how everyone wants to represent the brand so much was almost an event by itself. You spend just a few minutes inside the whole program and you know how much you want to be a part of what's going on.”
Tagliani, who lost his drive with the Barracuda Racing IndyCar team in late July, continues to look at his open-wheel options for 2014, but has welcomed the opportunity to add more stock car and sports car experience to his resume. His invite from the Canadian R. Ferri/Aim Autosport team to replace regular driver Max Papis (who was busy racing a Nationwide car at Mid-Ohio) came with few expectations attached. Other than fulfilling a lifelong dream to race a Ferrari (Tagliani is half Italian), the 39-year-old admits he didn't know what to expect from the event.
“I just came out of a NASCAR weekend in Canada and was a bit apprehensive because I didn't know how well I would adapt to the Ferrari right away,” he said. “You can't jump in and go-go-go right away. You need the support of your co-driver to learn, and your team, and I found the car was a perfect match for my driving style.
“I hope the team was happy with my technical input, and I really liked driving with Jeff Segal. He's a really good guy and very, very fast. I think it was a great fit with the engineers, and the guys from Michelotto, who build the cars, were excellent. I had more fun last weekend than I can remember having in a long time.”
After years of honing Indy cars to his liking, Tagliani wasn't sure whether the Grand-Am-spec F458 would provide a similar level of tuning possibilities. Within a few minutes of turning his first laps in the car during a wet practice session, Tag was delving into some of the finer aspects of the cars handling. When he and Segal were done, they had developed the car into a pole-sitting and race-leading chassis on the series' first event on the Kansas roval.
“I know (Aim Autosport principal) Ian Willis from all he's done in the sport, and their engineer Jeff Lohman is someone I know of, and right away, we started working on dampers and everything else so quickly, it made me forget I was a substitute driver. It was like a normal IndyCar weekend for me that way; it was all about improving the car right away and that fit me so well.
“I think me and Jeff [Segal] took things to a new level, and everybody seemed to be happy with what I was able to do for just being there for two days. Maybe I had a preconceived idea of what it was going to be like, just coming in, doing your job, stepping out, and it was like a job you completed and you are done. It was so different. They were valuing my feedback and wanted me to be more than just a temporary guy who should just be quiet and drive whatever they give him. It was picture-perfect.”
Tagliani isn't sure if or when he'll get another shot in the Ferrari-supported team, but hopes he did enough at Kansas to be considered for more drives in the future.
“I was afraid that people would say, ‘He's not a sports car driver. He's an IndyCar guy and probably wants everything his way and doesn't belong here,' but nothing could be farther away from the truth,” he remarked. “I had a blast and loved it so much; I was part of something, contributing to something and really felt like part of the family right away, so obviously I want to be back as soon as I can.
“You don't walk away from a weekend like that and say, ‘OK, that was nice, that's all I want from it.' You want to do more and more. I don't know what they will do next, but I think we started something very good at Kansas and I hope we can continue to build on that very soon.”