Although nearly all of the 19 starting drivers in Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300 will have a couple of stories to tell about their participation in one of the craziest races in recent Champ Car memory, few will be as dramatic and emotional as those told by Alex Tagliani.

Tagliani's bright blue Rocketsports Racing Lola-Ford seemed to be in the thick of the action all the way through Sunday's truncated 47-lap event around the taxing 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise street circuit and although he only netted a seventh place finish at the end, his result was testament to a never-say-die attitude and some simply stunning overtaking manoeuvres.

From a Surfers Paradise career-best fourth on the grid, Tagliani moved up to third in the chaotic early laps after Paul Tracy spun and was briefly second to leader Bruno Junqueira when polesitter Sebastien Bourdais crashed out on lap 12.

A relatively slow first pitstop from the #33 Johnson Controls team dropped Tagliani back to fourth for the lap 17 restart following a 45-minute delay for hail and it was shortly after Michel Jourdain Jr had demoted him to fifth, the closely following Roberto Moreno nudged the French-Canadian born driver into a spin where he was collected by Paul Tracy.

Somehow Tagliani managed to survive two separate assaults from the 2003 Champion-elect and managed to return to his pit box for damage assessment without losing a lap. Once the team had assessed that there was no lasting damage Tagliani returned to the track in 12th position.

As the track began to dry out following the early weather delay, Tagliani's supreme car controls were evident to see as he carved his way up the order, at one stage passing Mika Salo and Rodolfo Lavin in one move on the approach to the dauntingly quick back straight chicane. By lap 24 he was back up to sixth and contemplating his next move.

The next move was a gamble to change back to slick tyres two laps earlier than anyone else as Tagliani's early stop for a damage check had opened up his final pit window considerably. With leading trio Bruno Junqueira, Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain Jr all struggling for grip mightily on the increasingly dry track surface it seemed to be an inspired decision, until it turned round and bit him squarely on the rear.

Negotiating the tricky first chicane on lap 31 Tagliani spun the car and stalled the engine, triggering the caution period that effectively decided the race in favour of Ryan Hunter-Reay, and ending any hopes Tagliani had of taking a decent finish.

Although he maintained his position on the lead lap for the rest of the day, the laps wound down before Tagliani had the chance to re-launch an assault on the top five, although late race mistakes from Fernandez (spin) and Mario Dominguez (lost wheel) helped elevate him to seventh by the time the chequered flag finally fell.

"We had the car and strategy to win," rued Tagliani afterwards. "The Rocketsports team did a great job all weekend. The spin in turn one, with 16 laps to go, cost me some positions. I was looking for better than seventh, but another top-ten finish is good for the team."

Tagliani is now tenth in the Champ Car World Series point standings with 97 points, falling behind Surfers Paradise runner-up Darren Manning with one race still to run. In his four year Champ Car career, he has earned eight podiums, 15 top-five finishes and 39 top-ten finishes. Tagliani finished a career-best eighth in the 2002 Champ Car World Series with 111 points.

Look for Tagliani next in the final race of the 2003 Champ Car World Series, the King Taco 500, at California Speedway next Sunday.

 

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