The fourteenth part of my latest series.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth. After the Patrick Racing duo of Bell and Moreno was Canadian Alex Tagliani, who is the subject of this feature.
Alex was born in Montreal, Canada on the 18th October 1973 and began his career in the Atlantic Championship, first competing for P-1 Racing in 1996, finishing seventh in his debut year before switching to Forsythe Racing for the following three seasons, ending the years, third, fourth and fourth respectively, winning twice each year.
The turn of the millennium was Alex’s debut in the CART series. Following a string of impressive performances he was promoted to Forsythe Racing’s senior team alongside compatriot Patrick Carpentier for 2000, finishing sixteenth in the standings, just behind fellow rookie Oriol Servia. He achieved a best result of fourth that year in just his second start.
He and Carpentier remained with Forsythe Racing for 2001, now being joined by Bryan Herta, who returned to the series full time having sat out the majority of 2000. The trio all stood on the podium that year with Alex scoring his first podium at his hime race in Toronto, finishing second behind Michael Andretti. A further two podiums followed in the final two rounds of the season at Surfers Paradise and Fontana. It ensured he ended his second season eleventh, just eleven points behind his teammate in tenth.
It ensured the Canadian duo remained together for a third consecutive season with Forsythe Racing for 2002, as their results improved, although sadly the series was slowly starting to fade with IndyCar becoming more and more popular for the larger teams.
Alex again scored a best result of second in 2002, this time at Montegi and Road America, as he finished the season eighth for what proved to be the final season of CART before it was rebranded Champ Cars.
It was also the last season that the championship went to Rockingham, as I was there for both the 2001 and 2002 races, both of which I remember vividly. It is a circuit I love and would love to see it used for its real reasons again one day. For 2003, Alex continued in Champ Car however he lost his seat at the now renamed Players Racing to compatriot Paul Tracy, who moved to the team following Team Green’s move to IndyCar.
Alex found a drive with newcomers Rocketsports Racing as their sole driver, claiming three podiums, ending the season in the top ten once more. His second season with the team however was much more successful as at Road America, he achieved his first victory in the premier American class. It ensured he finished the season seventh.
It was Alex’s final season with the team as he joined Walker Racing for 2005, now rebranded as Team Australia following backing from Australian businessman Craig Gore. It ensured he was partnered alongside Australian rookie Marcus Marshall, although the team ran a one time entry for Will Power during the year.
Despite not having a race engineer for the season, he quelled his best finishing position of seventh with two podiums in Mexico and Toronto. As part of the deal, he contested in the V8 Supercar Championship for two of the series’ endurance rounds as co-driver for David Besnard, finishing twenty-second and thirteenth.
Bar a brief spell back with Rocketsports Racing at the end of 2007, Alex remained with Team Australia/ Walker Racing until the conclusion of Champ Car’s existence, at which point the two premier American single-seater championships merged, bringing unity to the competition for the first time since 1996.
Alex moved to IndyCar for 2008 with Walker Racing for a single round of the season at Long Beach while also contesting the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series for Tide Racing, in which he was a part of the inaugural season a year before. He enjoyed success in his first foray into NASCAR, winning once ending the year nineteenth in the standings.
It was the beginning of the spilt in his time between NASCAR and IndyCar as he contested his first Nationwide Races in 2009 while also competing in NASCAR Canada once more. However 2009 also saw Alex contest the Indy500 for the first time for Conquest Racing finishing the race a respectable eleventh having started last in thirty-third.
It was his first of eight consecutive Indy500 appearances in which he raced for teams such as Sam Schmidt Motorsports and A.J. Foyt Enterprises. His biggest achievement at the race to date came in 2011 as he qualified on pole for the 95th running of the great race, however sadly his race ended due to slight contact with the wall resulted in him returning to the pits, having lead the opening twenty laps of the race. Alex was eventually classified twenty-eighth.
Alex’s last appearance at the Indy500 was in 2016 however during this stint, he raced four full-time seasons in IndyCar for FAZZT Race Team, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Bryan Herta Autosport and Barracuda Racing, contesting seasons in the old Dallara chassis as well as the new DW-12 chassis which is still used today.
Alex’s best results were three fourth place finishes during this time, in which he contested in various other forms of motorsport, such as the Grand American Rolex Series and the V8 Supercars.
Since his time in IndyCar came to a full-time end during 2013, Alex has continued to race in the Canadian NASCAR series as well as the Chinese LMP3 Series.
He remains competitive today and away from the circuit he has had an interesting but also traumatic life, for multiple reasons. It was Alex who collided with his namesake Alex Zanardi at the Lausitzring resulting in catastrophic injuries for Zanardi which he all know about.
Like everyone I really wish for Zanardi’s best health following his recent hand-cycling crash. Just prior to his accident I was listening to a podcast with him and Tom Clarkson and he was joking about Alex’s surname, “Tagliani” in Italian is “to cut” which is what Zanardi said Alex did to him!
Thankfully, Alex Tagliani avoided serious injury in the crash which left Zanardi with two amputated legs and was able to compete at the next race in Rockingham.
Away from motorsport Alex also suffers with severe food allergies to nuts and has had multiple anaphylactic shocks, something which must be terrifying. He has campaigned for better food safety with regards to allergies, something I can relate to. My time in motorsport when I was younger was severely hampered by food allergies which were not known about until I was a lot older.
I stopped racing when I was 14 due however I only realised I was a coeliac when I was 18, something that since knowing, my health as improved no end.
I have always hugely respected Alex and his driving ability, however my respect for him is even higher now that I have read and learned so much more about him. I hope he continues to race and enjoy motorsport and that his health remains at the high levels it is today.
Pictures: www.motorsportimages.com, www.montrealgazette.com, www.sportsnet.ca