With a championship on the line for Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, and his teammate Dario Franchitti in the hospital recovering from the injuries he incurred on Sunday in Houston, RACER has learned former Barracuda Racing driver Alex Tagliani is the leading candidate to pilot Franchitti's No. 10 TCGR Honda during the season finale at Fontana.
The team is believed to favor hiring a seasoned driver with recent experience on the 2.0-mile Fontana oval which, as last year's race demonstrated, requires exceptional car control to deal with the tire degradation and big swings in chassis balance that comes from the limited downforce mandated by the series. That distinction alone takes most Indy 500 specialists out of contention for the seat.
Known as one of the stronger oval racers in the IndyCar Series, 39-year-old Tagliani would act as a tail-gunner for Dixon, who took over the points lead at Houston, as the New Zealander looks to hold a 25-point advantage over Team Penske's Helio Castroneves.
Ganassi's Charlie Kimball, who split Dixon and Franchitti during the most recent oval race at Pocono, has been far more effective on ovals this year, giving Dixon another layer of support. The Mid-Ohio race winner is expected to be a solid contributor to Dixon's championship efforts at the finale, but with Team Penske expected to add AJ Allmendinger into the mix alongside Castroneves and Will Power, a two-car tandem of Dixon and Kimball would see the numbers would fall in Penske's favor 3-2.
It's believed Ganassi's primary sponsor needs to approve Tagliani's substitution in the No. 10 Honda, and provided it's received, Ganassi would match Penske's three-car effort as both organizations look to surround their title contenders with additional talent.
Tagliani has four starts at the rebranded Auto Club Speedway, including last year's return to the Southern California track. The French-Canadian owns a best finish of third during the 2001 CART Indy car event, and was in contention to win the race in 2012 while driving Barracuda Racing's No. 98 Honda.
Tagliani qualified sixth and led 21 laps, passing Dixon, Franchitti and eventual winner Ed Carpenter in the latter stages, but surrendered the lead on lap 227 of the 250-lap event when his engine soured, leaving him 20th at the finish.