Special to the Tribune-Star
For Alex Tagliani, that $5,000 he lost to Helio Castroneves in the closing minutes of Fast Friday for fast lap of the day, he’s over it. Tagliani not only earned $100,000 for winning the coveted Indy 500 pole, he won the pole for what has been labeled the “Most Important Race in History.”
“It was such a team effort. I have an amazing crew who believes in me,” Tagliani said.
“Tag” sat in the No. 1 slot during the first segment of qualifying and was the last to go with only one shot to make history. As he rolled into pit lane after his run, the crowd roared as they watched for the first time in years that a powerhouse team was not good enough.
“We’re playing in the big boys’ league and we’re making it,” Tagliani said.
When he climbed from the car, Tagliani was mobbed by crew, team members and media. As he stood on top of his car, even with helmet still on, it was evident Tag was overcome with emotion.
“It’s difficult to explain, a lot of tears and sacrifice,” he said.
Simultaneously, Schmidt’s look of sheer joy was clearly representative of the passion people have for the Indianapolis 500.
“I’ve had some roller coasters in my life. It’s a special moment,” Schmidt said. “There is always this burning desire to come back year after year.”
The significance of earning the pole for the Centennial Anniversary race was not lost in Tagliani’s joy. “To do it here at this particular time, it just happens once. We were not here for the first and we won’t be here for the 200th.”
He added that the prize money was pretty cool as well. He mentioned his wife Bronte is rather frugal, telling him could not have a particular coffee table because it cost too much, but shortly after his run, she told him he could buy it.
This season is the first that Sam Schmidt Motorsports has fielded a full-time entry into the series. A long time dominate team in the Indy Lights Series, SSM has fielded 10 Indianapolis 500 entries since 2001.
Tagliani formed the FAZZT Racing team last season, but sold the team to SSM in March of this year. In the first four races of the season, Tagliani has two top 10 finishes and is seventh in the points. He credits owner Schmidt with much of the team’s success. “He is such a great leader,” Tagliani said. “For Sam, he looked at the team and said this is an entity that’s good and should continue.”
For Schmidt it culminated a difficult week for a smaller team. “It’s one huge step forward. You have to get through every practice, every day.”
Tagliani’s performance Saturday was no surprise. Throughout the practice week, he was in the top five in speed and topped the charts once. “The week had been difficult. You could never get a clean lap. We tried to run by ourselves to evaluate the right gearing and right downforce.”
This is Tagliani’s first IZOD IndyCar Series pole, although he earned five previous Indy car pole while competing in Champ Car. Tagliani is the first Canadian to earn a pole for the Indianapolis 500.
Ed Carpenter also wowed the crowd with his qualifying effort twice. To the surprise of many, but not to him or Sarah Fisher Racing, Carpenter consistently ran in the top 10 in speed the entire week. During the second round of qualifying, Carpenter turned in a warm up lap over 226. However, when he got loose during his second run, Carpenter’s chance at the pole was gone, but he tied his best qualifying to date with eighth. “The competition is so tough right now, but I think we have some confidence now.”
It is Carpenter’s first race of the season, but he feels confident.
“It is my first oval race of the year, but Indianapolis is so different from other ovals that I might not have gained anything by running somewhere else,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter has always expressed his love for Indianapolis, and this year was no different.
“I really appreciate the fans cheering when I finished the run. At this place it means a lot to me,” Carpenter said.