PrintPrint

Tagliani takes pole position for Montreal Nationwide race

The Canadian Press

8/17/2012 8:22:56 PM

MONTREAL -- Alex Tagliani has a chance to redeem his heartbreaking second-place finish at last year's NAPA Auto Parts 200 in front of his hometown fans.

The 39-year-old from nearby Lachenaie, Que., grabbed pole position for the first time at the 74-lap NASCAR Nationwide series event by posting the quickest lap in qualifying on Friday at the 2.7-mile Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

He will start his No. 30 Chevy from the front in Saturday's race alongside Penske Racing's Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 12 Dodge.

Near-perfect conditions, sunny and 23C, are forecast for the race.

A year ago, Tagiani started in second position on the front row, but took the lead and looked to have the race in the bag until he was passed on a late restart by Australian Marcus Ambrose and came second by 1.112 seconds.

"Last year one thing I wanted was to finish as high as I could and bring the car back in one piece," said Tagliani. "That was more of a accomplishment than second place because Turn 1 and Turn 2 here is where you can lose it all.

"I'll approach it the same way. Keep your nose clean the whole race and put yourself in position to contend, and then hope you win. You want to save your stuff to the end."

Avoiding contact in the bump and grind of stock car racing is not always possible, but Tagliani sees it as key to winning on the tough road course with its quick straightways and tight turns.

The first two turns, a menacing S-shaped layout known as Senna Corner, has ended the day for many drivers over the years, not only in Nationwide, NASCAR's second tier, but also the Formula One beasts at the annual Canadian Grand Prix.

"I don't know if it's from too many years in open wheel (racing) or what, but last year with the passing and dicing, I was always trying not to bang anybody," Tagliani said. "It worked out because my car was in really good shape.

"One bad bump and a couple of rolls of tape on the car and maybe it's different. Maybe the downforce is no good or the braking is bad. My philosophy is try to get our stuff in good shape at the end when you have to push."

There could be action behind him, as Hornish's Penske teammate Villeneuve qualified third in the No. 22 Dodge and will start next to Danica Patrick, who is still a little sore at the 1997 F1 champion from Montreal who bumped her No. 7 GoDaddy Chevy off the track at Road America in Wisconsin in June.

"She's a racer like any out there and I'm sure she wants to have a good race as well," was all the 41-year-old Villeneuve had to say on that matter.

The third row has a pair of Toyotas with Owen Kelly's No. 54 qualifying fifth and Michael McDowell's No. 18 sixth.

Veteran Ron Fellows, the 2007 champion from Toronto, has his No. 5 car on the fourth row. Andrew ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., starts from row six in the No. 27 Dodge and Patrick Carpentier of Joliette, Que., is on row seven in the No. 99 Toyota.

Tagliani was not supposed to race in Montreal. He drives full time on the IndyCar circuit, but the race scheduled for this weekend in China was cancelled.

Then he arranged not only to get a drive in the Nationwide event, but also to enter one of the support races in the Grand-Am endurance series. He qualified third in Grand-Am on one of the strongest teams. He will do both races on Saturday.

He said that much track time can help or hurt.

"You're in different cars, so you have to remember all the braking zones and remember which car you're in," he said. "But it's nice I'm driving two competitive cars in two series."

Villeneuve won pole position at last year's race, but said he couldn't find a perfect lap this time around.

It was a big day for Carpentier, who won pole and finished second at the 2007 race.

The 41-year-old retired after the 2011 event, but decided to come back for one more race to help raise money for a children's charity.

"I knew today would be between 10th and 15th," he said. "The guys brought a good car.

"It's similar to last year when in qualification the car was OK, but in the race it was stable for the long run, so I think we'll be pretty good."

He was happy for Tagliani, who he raced with and against for years in open wheel series.

"That's his first one here and he deserves it," said Carpentier. "He keeps racing and racing. He's like the Energizer bunny."

Ambrose elected not to race in Montreal this year, but to concentrate on the Sprint Cup event in Michigan. He is in a tight race for the final wild card spot in The Chase, which decides the NASCAR championship.