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Tagliani takes maiden Champ Car victory

9 August 2004

Alex Tagliani claimed his first win in the Champ Car World Series by leading home the field at the Grand Prix of Road America.

Starting from a lowly thirteenth on the grid, the Rocketsports Racing driver used shrewd pit strategy, a strong race car and a bit of luck, to finally claim victory in his 85th race.

“I feel good,” a delighted Tagliani said afterwards. “I mean, this is a race that I really led in 2000. It was not easy. The last six laps after the restart, I was kind of worried a little bit. And I was not going to just think that it was going to be easy until I saw the white flag. Maybe, you know, today honestly we got a little bit lucky with the way the yellow turned out in the race. But many races this year we were unlucky. I think today all the ingredients were there.”

The Canadian finished ahead of Rodolfo Lavin with series leader Sebastien Bourdais completing the podium to extend his lead at the top of the standings.

The action started as soon as the green flag dropped, with the first seven drivers on the starting grid using the push-to-pass going into the first turn. Everyone got through the first turn cleanly but two of the pre-race favorites failed to complete the entire lap as Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay tangled in turn twelve, knocking them both out of contention.

Series points leader Sebastien Bourdais led the field back to the restart where his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Bruno Junqueira joined him in building a two-second lead on the field. However that lead vanished when Roberto Gonzalez spun, on lap eleven.

At that point, Tagliani led a group of five cars that made the first of their three mandatory green-flag pit stops on lap 15, gambling that a yellow flag would bunch the field back up and leave them one fuel stop ahead of the rest of the field.

The gamble paid off just two laps later when Junqueira spun while trying to wrest third place from Junqueira, as the duo had been passed by a pair of cars on the restart.

Tagliani in took the lead for the first time on lap 23 as the rest of the field made their first stops, but gave it back to Paul Tracy when he took his second stop on lap 30. He retook the lead again on lap 37 when the remainder of the field made their second stops, then made his final fuel run three laps later.

He came out of the pits as the first driver to make all three of his stops, but found himself in second place after Lavin came out of the pits ahead of him after third stop.

However, Lavin had used all of his allotment of push-to-pass power in making his way to the sharp end of the grid despite the fact that Champ Car officials added an extra 15 seconds to the driver's power bank before the race, giving them 75 seconds of added boost to use.

Tagliani came past the pits in second place as Lavin came out ahead of him, but the Rocketsports man was able to move up the inside into turn five to retake the lead.

There was one final caution period late in the day as a result of three separate incidents. Firstly, Tracy and Junqueira went nose-to-tail on the backstretch only for the pair to make contact that saw Junqueira spin in turn five. The incident would cost Tracy dear as he was served with a drive through penalty, resulting in him finishing the race down in twelfth place.

On the same lap as the two tangled, Alex spun off course while A.J. Allmendinger spun and stopped on the backstretch.

With only two laps to go at the restart, Tagliani got the jump on the field and rolled away from Lavin, with Bourdais having worked his way back up the ladder to score the third spot. Haberfeld was holding down the fourth spot, fighting off furious challenges from Hunter-Reay and Mario Dominguez but went off course on the penultimate lap -losing seven places as a result.

The misstep promoted Hunter-Reay to the fourth spot while Dominguez rounded out the top five, giving the Herdez Competition squad its first double top-five of the season. Bourdais' podium finish gave him the largest lead of the year in the Champ Car World Series, as the Frenchman has built a commanding 47-point lead over Junqueira after eight events. However he admitted the race had been bizarre.

“Well, I don't really know what to think about this race really because there have been so many things that I don't know what happened myself,” he said. “All I know is we were leading the race. Then this yellow came out at the wrong moment. I got passed by a couple of people; I passed a bunch of people. And here I am on the podium, and I have no idea what happened in between.”

Justin Wilson finished the race as top rookie in seventh, while sportscar driver Guy Smith claimed a top ten finish on his Champ Car debut.


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