Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull said during a team test this week at Sebring International Raceway that while selecting an individual to drive the No. 10 Chevrolet-powered car for the 2014 IndyCar Series season is a priority, there's little urgency.
With four-time series champion Dario Franchitti last month announcing his retirement, the team is exploring options to complement its lineup of reigning series champion Scott Dixon, 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan and 2013 race winner Charlie Kimball.
“I guess in a way we’re lucky that we have time to react and make a decision that we think will not only benefit us for 2014 but for past 2014,” Hull said. “I don’t think we’ll make a decision that doesn’t take all our partners, our teammates and our collective future to a better position than where we’re at now.”
Alex Tagliani, who was called upon to fill in for the injured Franchitti in the season finale Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway, is hopeful that he’s part of that future. He started 21st, led five of the 250 laps and finished 14th because of contact in his 201st Indy car start.
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Tagliani returned to the No. 10 car at Sebring in the team’s first on-track outing with its new partner Chevrolet.
“We were really lucky when we needed to find a quality driver to drive the 10 car for Fontana that Alex was available, and he did a fantastic job,” Hull said. “Not only how he worked his way up to the front and into the lead, but he demonstrated to us how to work with our product. The same thing at Sebring; he’s provided a lot of information and a fresh perspective. That part of our culture we really push hard here.”
Tagliani, who drove the No. 98 Barracuda Racing car for team co-owners Bryan Herta and Steve Newey through the Toronto doubleheader with a best finish of 10th (season opener at St. Petersburg and the second Toronto race), is appreciative of the opportunities.
“It doesn’t happen too often that I have the chance to test in December so it’s quite awkward to be in a race car,” Tagliani, 40, joked as he pulled up the red firesuit with the primary sponsor’s bulls-eye logo on his chest. “Running with Ganassi is just a dream come true. Being able to fill in and help them with their test program is an honor, so from that point I know what I have to do and it’s great that they wanted to continue with me.
“Any auditions are already done; they know what you can do in a car.”
After exiting the Bryan Herta Autosport car in mid-July at Toronto, Tagliani competed in selected sports car and stock car races. Following Franchitti’s final-lap incident at Houston, he quickly agreed to compete in the finale two weeks later.
“I think it was a pretty big risk really,” Tagliani said. “I didn’t drive the car for three and a half months and to put me in a car at Fontana in such an important race for them it already was a statement.”
Tagliani believes his assets for something long term align with what Hull stated, plus experience and “the hunger I still have.” It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a Quebec native and businessman (his line of nut-free cookies is being marketed across Canada) as Target is making a push to open stores throughout the nation.
“I think you need to be integrated and have good chemistry and the technical ability is important to them with changing from Honda to Chevy,” Tagliani said. “There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that it changes their whole dynamic.
“Dario was a big part of this team. He was a very technical driver and when it happened to him it threw a big curveball to the team and they’re going to take their time to assess this whole thing. In that respect it’s a process, but just the fact that I’m in the car is a big statement.
“It would be crazy for anyone not to want that opportunity. It’s something that I’ve worked for my career. Teams of this caliber create stability in their organization and seats don’t become available every year like in other teams. I would really like to see what I could do in that type of organization. If that opportunity comes I will definitely take it.”
Other opportunities could arise for 2014, and Tagliani has been aligned in the media with other teams. But his priority is remaining in the red and white car.
“The way I am with the team, the way things are going, I’m not really looking elsewhere and focusing on other things because it would be disrespectful to this team and the faith they have in me,” he said. “It’s nice that other teams have shown interest, but right now I have to dedicate everything I have to this program.”