Tagliani, Wheldon back to karts
Alex Tagliani and Dan Wheldon aren't participating in the Florida Winter Tour karting program just for fun. There are the physical and mental preparation elements for the upcoming IZOD IndyCar Series season along with the competition. And then there's the fun factor.
Both drivers will compete at Palm Beach International Raceway on Feb. 25-27 in the second round of the Rotax MAX Challenge. Tagliani, driver of the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car for FAZZT Race Team, came out of the opener in Orlando last month with the lead in the Rotax DD2 Masters category. Wheldon, the 2005 IZOD IndyCar Series champion, is fifth in the Rotax Senior class.
"Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love karting," said Wheldon, who competed in numerous karting events in 2010 including the SKUSA SuperNationals in Las Vegas and the Robopond endurance race at New Castle (Ind.) Motorsports Park. "I started when I was 4 years old in England and it is still a love of mine to this day. It is such a great way to hone your skills while outside of the racecar. It really helps to keep a driver on his toes."
Wheldon, who has 15 IZOD IndyCar Series victories, also has an investment in a few of the young drivers on the circuit. He's driving for the Tony Kart/Ocala Grand Prix team.
"I was honored to be one of three celebrity judges for the DeFrancesco Racing Florida Winter Tour TaG Cadet Scholarship Program that Bill Wright hosted in December 2010 that ensured that 15 deserving kids are able to participate in the Florida Winter Tour series in 2011," he said. "These kids are talented and determined, and with a little bit of financial help are set to really display their talents. I remember what it meant to me to have people believe in me and my talent at that age."
The Formula Kart Productions Florida Winter Tour is one of the longest running, largest and most geographically diverse kart racing series in the Americas. The 2010 edition featured 482 competitors representing 23 countries, 25 states and five Canadian provinces.
"I got my start in racing with an introduction to karting at the age of 10 by my grandfather, and now as an IndyCar driver I think it's important to connect with and support young karters because some of them are going to be the new generation of IndyCar drivers and hopefully fans now and forever," Tagliani said.
"(The tour) attracts a lot of the top young drivers in North and South American. There was plenty of up-and-coming talent like fellow Canadians Daniel Morad (2010 world champion) and Robert Wickens, as well as my SRA teammates, Jan Velez (DD2 class), Christophe Boisclair, Jean-François Lafontaine (Rotax Max Senior) and Olivier Bédard (Rotax Max Junior).
"(The events are) a lot of fun, a great way to get ready for the IndyCar season as testing is so limited and the off-season is so long. I have a strict fitness regime but it's not the same as being in a car to tune up my reaction time and my car fitness and karting in the Florida Winter Tour Series really helps me get ready."