Conquest Racing’s Alex Tagliani won the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, but the team had to miss last weekend’s IndyCar Series race in Milwaukee. This weekend, the little team with the big heart was back on the championship trail, and Tag reports to RACER.com after the race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Well that was just a weird race for us. Where did our speed from qualifying go? [See Friday's Tagliani diary
]. I wish I knew. All of us at Conquest Racing wish we knew. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you expected them, but at least you can find the reason. This time, we just couldn’t.
At the end, we lost a position because we decided to stay out during the yellow and make up a lap, but then we needed to pit for a splash of fuel before the end. This doesn’t bother me; we tried something, we slipped from 13th to 14th, but so what, you know? What is confusing is that we were only in 13th before that!
We’re kind of feeling bummed. The No.34 Rexall Edmonton Indy car was so good right away in practice, and then in qualifying we got even quicker. So we are closing the gap with the big boys: we were just six tenths of a second behind Dario who was on pole. That’s very decent. But last night, all of a sudden, my car was too slow on the straights. I was flat all the way round. We felt like we were losing a tiny bit of horsepower from not having our throttle totally optimized, but it was pretty negligible. It’s just a bummer that we lost so much speed.
The car was good handling – as good as Indy, if not better. I could go anywhere on the track, and I was trying to draft as many people as I could. But then, when you’re drafting people into the corner as close as you can, you pick up a lot of push, and you destroy the front tires, and then the car slides more and more in turbulence.
At the start of the race, in the turbulence of following a big pack of cars, we picked up some positions right away, we felt we could run competitively. But then slowly but surely, the car just felt slower and slower on the straights. In practice, before the engine problem, I was doing 211mph on my own, even with full fuel. Doing race setup practice, and in someone’s draft we could do 212.5mph. In qualifying, we did a 213.1 average.
And in the race, I had a hard time to do a 207! On my own, I’d just be doing 207, 207, 207, and then I’d hook a draft and do a 209. So strange. It wasn’t aero, we know that, because we hardly changed that on the car at all. We altered the gurney a little bit at the front for when we were running in dirty air, but that was it. Mechanically, we didn’t do much either. Why would we? We were happy with how it had been, so why reinvent the wheel?
As bad as we felt after the race, a bit empty, hungry for more, other than the straightline speed we had no complaints. It was very stable. We could fight with guys in turbulence, but the problem is, I can only follow when they’re chopping the air. But I could not go on the inside or the outside, and when there’s less draft and I’m just going mano a mano with them, slowly they’re pulling away.
I’m not the type of guy who will say, “Oh it’s this one thing,” when I’m not really sure. You have to wonder if it was a combination of a lot of small things. The throttle being not optimized, the gear maybe was off by a tiny bit. But we’re talking 40rpm, not 150 here.
It’s such a shame, because 1.5-mile ovals were hard for Conquest last year, and this year the team improved by 2.5mph in qualifying.
Early in the race, I was battling with Ed Carpenter, and I passed him on two restarts. But then when he re-passed, I tried to stay with him and I couldn’t. And he finished ninth. At one point during the race, Brandon Fry, my engineer, gets on the radio and says, “Your throttle percentage is not at the optimum so keep pushing on the throttle as hard as you can,” so I did but it didn’t change anything. I just had a freakin’ sore leg at the end from trying to make the throttle open more. Just 1.5mph extra straightline speed would have been another world for us. That’s how good and consistent the car was; it kept the tires in really good shape.
I don’t know what the plan is for the next few races. That’s a question for the team. Obviously Toronto and Edmonton, for sure. And I want to do Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. Of course, road and street courses are where we’re best. But look, we’re getting this car up to speed on ovals too. I’d love to do Richmond, for example, and people tell me good things about Iowa… We can compete well on short ovals, in particular. If we can only afford to do a part-schedule, we need to choose our circuits wisely, where we can show good speed, and get the sponsors in. The team is really working hard on the marketing side.
I’ll keep you posted through Twitter and Facebook. I’ve finally learned how to do that through my phone. So check it out. I’ll be keeping you up to date with what I’m doing and we’ll be doing competitions and that sort of thing with Sennheiser and Gatorz, and I’ll be able to let you know each time I do a new diary article for Racer.com.
So stay in touch!Alex