The 25-day countdown to the 25th anniversary Honda Indy Toronto began today outside the William Ashley China store on Bloor St. West and guest star Alex Tagliani revealed that he’s working on driving in not just one race that July 8-10 weekend, but two.
“In addition to the Indy race, I’d really like to drive in the (NASCAR) Canadian Tire race that weekend and we’re working on doing that,” said the IZOD IndyCar Series racer who won the pole for last month’s 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.
“I don’t know if it will be possible, but I’m hoping,” said “Tag,” who welcomed media and passersby to a press conference outside the china shop where an Indy car was perched atop four Wedgwood Bone China teacups.
Honda Indy General Manager Charlie Johnstone reminisced about the first Toronto Indy, in 1986 (there was no race in 2008), noting that Bobby Rahal had been the winner.
He reminded people of the great drives put in over the years by seven-time winner Michael Andretti, two-time winner Al Unser Jr. and Canadians Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy and the late Greg Moore and suggested there was more to come at this year’s event, which will start with the Honda-sponsored Free Friday July 8th.
Racers from other series that will see action during the Honda Indy weekend were present, including NASCAR Canada drivers Jason Hathaway and Don Thomson Jr., John Farano of the Ferrari Challenge and P.J. Groenke and Sasha Anis of the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship.
But Tagliani was the star of the show and a long line of print, radio and TV reporters waited to interview him.
“Tag” went from racing a 1,525-lb. Indy car at Indianapolis on May 29th to a 3,400-lb. stock car for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at Circuit ICAR in Quebec the following weekend and was in contention to win both before crashes deep-sixed him in each event.
He’s keen to race in the Indy car race in Toronto but would really like to have another crack at the stars of the Canadian Tire Series in the NASCAR race on the Saturday.
“People don’t realize that the best stock car drivers in Canada are in that series,” he said. “Scott Steckly, Mark Dilley, J.R. Fitzpatrick — they all run hard but they run clean and it’s tough to beat them.
“As well as their talent, it’s very difficult to go from a car with a lot of speed and a lot of downforce (the Indy car) and all of a sudden you’re going to a car that’s heavy.
“But you need a special set of skills to drive a NASCAR car to its limit, in qualifying or in the race. I won the pole (at Quebec) but you saw that J.R. was right there with me, every single lap. We passed each other — what — eight, nine times? What a kid. The guy was clean and it was good racing.”
Tagliani said whether he runs in Toronto depends on the help he gets from sponsors Dodge and Hot Wheels.
“I would like to do it here, there’s no doubt. It would be fun but I don’t know if I can make it happen.”
Asked about rumours that he won’t be in an Indy car past the Emonton race (a week after Toronto) because of sponsorship problems, Tagliani said he didn’t know.
“I have absolutely no idea what is going on at the moment,” he said. “I feel that we will be okay. I’m able to count, I’m able to see where the sponsorship is coming from, I’m able to see what we did with Indy, with all the deals that Sam (Schmidt, the car owner) had going on, with all the deals he has going on with drivers left and right, so I’m hoping for loyalty. Not to replace me because there’s a rental that comes along with money. That would be a shame. And I’m hoping that won’t happen.”
And, by the way, "Tag," who’s going to win the seventh game of the Stanley Cup playoffs?
“Vancouver, of course!” he replied.
“We have to keep the Cup in Canada. Canada is hockey. Everybody knows that.”