As RACER revealed Wednesday morning, former Barracuda Racing driver Alex Tagliani was the leading candidate to stand in for the injured Dario Franchitti at Fontana. The Target Chip Ganassi Racing team has subsequently confirmed that Tagliani will drive the No. 10 Target Honda during the season finale at Fontana in support of championship leader Scott Dixon (with Tagliani, ABOVE, Chip Ganassi Racing photo), who holds a 25-point advantage over Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves.
The team’s preference for a seasoned driver with recent experience on the 2.0-mile Fontana oval clearly played in Tagliani’s favor. As last year’s race demonstrated, Fontana requires exceptional car control to deal with the tire degradation and big swings in chassis balance that comes from the limited downforce mandated by the series, leaving Tagliani as the obvious candidate to sub for Franchitti.
Ganassi’s Charlie Kimball, who split Dixon and Franchitti during the most recent oval race at Pocono, has been far more effective on ovals this year, and the Mid-Ohio race winner is expected to be a solid contributor to Dixon’s championship efforts during the 500-mile race on October 19th.
With Team Penske adding AJ Allmendinger into the mix at Fontana alongside Castroneves and Will Power, the Ganassi and Penske organizations will field three-car efforts to add buffers between their title contenders.
Tagliani has four starts at the rebranded Auto Club Speedway, including last year’s return to the Southern California track. The French-Canadian owns a best finish of third during the 2001 CART Indy car event, and was in contention to win the race in 2012 while driving Barracuda Racing’s No. 98 Honda.
Tagliani qualified sixth and led 21 laps, passing Dixon, Franchitti and eventual winner Ed Carpenter in the latter stages, but surrendered the lead on lap 227 of the 250-lap event when his engine soured, leaving him 20th at the finish.
With Franchitti expected to be on the mend over the next few months, the Ganassi team could have a need for Tagliani (or another driver of their choosing) to perform testing with the No. 10 car in preparation for the 2014 season.
Ganassi’s switch to Chevy engines will take place after Fontana, which will require multiple tests, and with Ganassi’s sports car team readying itself for January’s 24 Hours of Daytona a race that Franchitti has taken part in for Ganassi since 2008, his place within that effort could be subject to the pace of his recovery.
For now, and with only Fontana confirmed by the team, Tagliani will get to race alongside Dixon, who he considers as one of his closest friends. Tagliani will celebrate his 40th birthday during practice and qualifying for the MAVTV 500 on Oct. 18.