Separated only by a few years in age, but at opposite points of their respective careers, Paul Tracy (43 years old) and Alex Tagliani (39) are back to racing against each other in this weekend's Rolex Series Montreal 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The two Canadians carried the flag in CART and Champ Car, although over the last five years their open-wheel opportunities have fallen from full-time to mostly sporadic.
Tagliani – now in his third year back full-time in IndyCar since the open wheel unification of 2008 – is on a bit of a career resurgence, having qualified in the Firestone Fast Six the last four road and street course races in the Team Barracuda-BHA Honda. Barring a last-minute substitution, it appears 2012 will mark the first IndyCar season where Tracy won't appear in a single race since 1990.
Each has a sterling opportunity to take their first win in a new discipline this weekend. Tracy, who's made a handful of Rolex DP starts, including four this year in a previous generation Dallara Ford co-driving with Dr. Jim Lowe, has his best shot with the Corvette DP for Action Express Racing. By contrast, Tagliani, who was already committed to the weekend's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, will make his DP debut driving in both Starworks Riley Fords. He has prior experience in Grand-Am, but only in GT with a Ford Mustang.
“I've been very feverishly wanting to try these cars,” Tagliani said in a Tuesday conference call. “Unless you drive and try, you don't know what you're missing out on. It's a good opportunity as I know the track, and Starworks are pretty quick. Maybe it opens the door for the Daytona 24 in the future.”
Tagliani's task, as co-driver to two separate drivers each in the heat of the Daytona Prototype championship fight, is to not stuff up either of their chances. He's scheduled to start the No. 8 car, then hand to Ryan Dalziel there. Once Alex Popow finishes his stint in the sister No. 2, Tagliani will take that car to the finish. Dalziel currently stands six points back, and Popow 21, of DP standings leaders Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas of TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
“For the DP, it's a question of being a very good teammate to Ryan for chance in the championship,” Tagliani said. “It's tough to dilute your focus and program over a weekend with two different categories. But these chances to try don't happen often, especially with IndyCar. My job is to complement the team, not reinvent the wheel.”
Known for his “Chrome Horn” in his open-wheel career, Tracy has no championship pressure attached for his drive in the No. 5 entry with David Donohue. As it's been since 2007 since Tracy had a full season in anything, with only 19 IndyCar starts since the end of '07, he's using this opportunity as a showcase for a full year next year. He passed up any Nationwide offers as a result of the singular focus.
“I'd talked to a couple teams when this came up a couple weeks ago, but I want to focus exclusively on Action Express,” he said. “The key is that hopefully it opens the door for next year.”
Knowing that his open-wheel career has likely seen its last race (not counting the canceled Las Vegas finale, his last start came at Edmonton 2011), Tracy has no regrets as he moves on to the next stage in prolonging his career behind the wheel.
“I'm fine with that,” he admitted. “I had a great, long career in IndyCars for 22 years. It doesn't go on forever. Now almost a year out, the focus has changed. What's the next phase of my career in what I want to do?
“I've always dabbled in Grand-Am. They're not the most high tech cars, like an ALMS car or something like that. But what I like about them, the field is almost equal, the gap is usually within one second first to last, and the racing is really good. It's not an Audi versus the rest of the teams like in (FIA) World Endurance. It's good, hard racing for two to three hours. This is what I would like to do next year, full-time.
“I want to race because I still love to race. I can get what I want out of the racing side of it. Any racing driver will tell you, you won't get rich in sports cars, but I still have the passion to drive. These cars are a lot of fun to drive.”
Tagliani, meanwhile, is looking to use this as a launch point to a DP ride in next year's Rolex 24 at Daytona. Having prior DP experience can only benefit him.
“It's been an avenue for a long time, trying to do the 24 hours. Guys get rides for that very quickly. I'd like to do it in a good way. Knowing Starworks is a very strong team, I knew I had a big weekend with Nationwide but I really wanted to put myself out there in a DP car. Now I will have some experience. When you ask for the 24, it's so important, that teams don't want to take the risk of a guy who's never driven one! Hopefully it's the beginning.”
Any future Rolex 24 appearances for either driver would match those achieved by other IndyCar drivers at this year's race. The Andretti Autosport trio of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe, and Ganassi's usual open-wheel armada (Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Graham Rahal) were those who raced, among others. RHR and Andretti were co-drivers in Starworks' No. 2 at this year's Rolex, Andretti in his DP debut, with Hinchcliffe the only one of the aforementioned six in a GT ride. Tracy drove this year's Rolex with Lowe and the Frisselle brothers (ABOVE).