If not for bad luck, Alex Tagliani could have walked away with another win for the underdogs of the IndyCar Series paddock, just one week on from Justin Wilson's upset for the Dale Coyne Racing team.
The Canadian, who started a season-best fifth, led twice for 21 laps around Toronto's Exhibition Place but, instead of joining Wilson and Coyne as popular victors, came away with heartbreak in his home country. Possibly on his way to a first win for the Conquest Racing outfit, 'Tag' saw everything melt away because of an untimely caution period, leaving them to settle for ninth at the chequered flag.
After scoring a best start of the season after qualifying fifth, the team made an impressive start to the IndyCar Series' first race on the streets of Toronto, as Tagliani gained three positions at the green to slot into second place behind eventual winner Dario Franchitti. The Canadian had the crowd behind him as he remained in striking distance of the lead, and ahead of reigning champion Scott Dixon, and they cheered even more when he took the lead as Franchitti pitted on lap 25.
Tagliani remained in the lead, fighting with both Paul Tracy and Dixon, until his own first pit-stop on lap 34. With others having pitted during an early caution period, he then briefly found himself seventh but, once the stops had cycled through, he was once again in the lead - ahead of Franchitti, who had suffered a botched wheel change. Everything was looking good for the Conquest squad as Tagliani seemed untouchable, but then came the heartbreak when a yellow flag flew for an incident in turn three on lap 59.
Because of the rule that requires officials to close the pits during the first laps of a full course caution, Tagliani couldn't immediately pit to keep his advantage. The team's performance was now in vain, since the yellow advantaged cars that had pitted earlier - including Franchitti, who had just pitted for a second time - and Tagliani wound up eleventh at the time he rejoined.
"It's very unfortunate to dominate like this in a race and lose it by a 'pits are closed' rule - it's a little bit disappointing, but what can I say," he sighed, "We were kind of the victim of our own performance. The car was great on tyres and fuel, I was driving a really good race, and I didn't have the need to pit. Guys were pitting behind us and, when the yellow came out because of an incident, I couldn't pit to keep the advantage I had."
It was the third top ten finish for the Conquest team on a road or street course and, combined with Tagliani's previous success at Edmonton, could be a sign of good things to come. The Canadian, too, will have a point to prove on 26 July.
"That rule really destroyed our whole race, and it's a shame to see it slip away between our fingers," he fumed, "But, in the end, we still came here and we showed that we could be faster than anybody else.”
Team owner Eric Bachelart shared his driver's viewpoint, and praised Tagliani for his effort.
“It's hard to accept that we can lose a race when we have been dominating the whole time, and because of a yellow," Bachelart grimaced, "I really think that the officials should have a hard look at their rules. I think that, too many times, we have seen the leader lose the race because of a yellow, so the current rules do not always reward the best car and driver on the track and it becomes a bit of a gambling exercise.
"This being said, I very much appreciate the team effort and Alex's brilliant driving. It's obviously a very disappointing result, but we proved we have the potential to win a race and, hopefully, it will happen soon.”