Tagliani on Lotus and winning the Indy 500

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Ex-F1 star Jean Alesi is worried about being run over during next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 and says his engine manufacturer, Lotus, has asked for extra power to help make him feel safer during the race.

Alesi, 47, was the slowest of the 33 drivers to qualify when he turned a four-lap average speed of 210:094 miles an hour Sunday — about 15 mph slower than the pole speed of 226.484 mph set earlier by Ryan Briscoe.

The F1 veteran, whose one Grand Prix victory came in the 1995 Canadian GP at Montreal, was in Toronto Monday with Canadian racer Alex Tagliani and another Indy car star, Simon Pagenaud. They flew in to promote the 500 as well as July’s Honda Indy Toronto.

The speed differential between the first-place car, powered by a Chevrolet engine, and the last-place Lotus has many concerned, particularly Alesi.

“We have engine development problems,” said the French driver, “so we have asked the (IndyCar) organization to maybe allow us a little more ‘boost’ to increase our speed because I don’t want to be in the middle (of the speedway) and either deter the leader or be hit by him. I feel unsafe, being so slow.”

Officials of the IZOD IndyCar Series said the request is being considered.

When IndyCar solicited engine competition for 2012 (Honda was the lone supplier for years), no one expected Lotus to be such a disaster. New manufacturer Chevrolet and Honda have been competitive but Lotus was well off the pace from the start. The manufacturer supplied engines to five teams when the season started in Florida in March; now it is down to two.

Tagliani, of Montreal, who qualified 11th for this year’s 500, drives for a team that started with Lotus but has since switched to Honda.

“I knew from the moment I first drove the car that there was a lot of horsepower missing,” he said. “I knew there were a lot of issues and that if we didn’t do something we would be in a lot of trouble. Fortunately, the league approved the change and Honda agreed to do business with us.”

“Tag” said he felt good once he got up to speed at Indianapolis and thinks he can win the world’s most famous race.

“My qualifying laps (219.281 mph average) felt like the laps I ran last year when I won the pole position,” said Tagliani, whose primary sponsor, Bowers & Wilkins, is based in Toronto.

“Our car is amazing in traffic; we’ve focused a lot on setting up the car for the race. I know the Chevy engines have a little on us but, with the cars in race trim, it evens out. In the end, the 500 is a race of survival and the goal is no mistakes on the track, no mistakes in the pits.”

Like most Canadians, Tagliani said he is tremendously proud of the other Canadian in the big race, Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe, who came within a sliver of winning the pole and will start second in Sunday’s spectacle.

“He’s with a very strong team (Andretti Autosport) and has a very strong car so he has a good chance,” he said.

“We (Canadians) have two chances out of 33 to win the Indy 500, right? But we both have the Canadian flag on our cars and we will do our very best to make everybody proud of us.”

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