Alex Tagliani has mixed feelings about replacing three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti in the Oct. 19 season-ending IndyCar race at Fontana.
He gets his shot to drive for one of the top teams in the series. But it took an injury for Tagliani to get the seat.
Franchitti remained hospitalized Wednesday with two fractured vertebrae, a broken ankle and a concussion suffered in a last-lap accident Sunday at the Grand Prix of Houston.
"You get the ride knowing one of your friends has been injured, and that's hard," Tagliani said Wednesday. "The good thing and the positive thing is Dario is fine and we exchanged emails, and his emails were positive and had a good vibe and it puts you at ease that he is in a good spirit after such a horrible crash.
"That being said, although it's an atmosphere we all want to avoid, when you are called to replace the primary and you are in the mix of it, it is an amazing opportunity to go there on an important weekend."
Tagliani will drive the No. 10 Honda for Target Chip Ganassi Racing at Auto Club Speedway in California alongside IndyCar championship leader Scott Dixon. The team will be trying to help Dixon win a third series championship. Dixon takes a 25-point lead over Helio Castroneves into the finale.
Tagliani believes he got the call to replace Franchitti based on experience — he has four previous starts at Fontana, with a pole, three top-10s and a career-best third-place finish — and a willingness to sacrifice personal gain for the goal of the Ganassi team. He was let go by team owner Bryan Herta after 13 races this season, but said he won't use his shot in the Ganassi car to prove he deserves an IndyCar ride.
"I have to stay very focused at the job ahead. If Dario was in the car, he would go out to support the team and help win the championship," Tagliani said. "If you look at it as a selfish way, you would go out and prove you still have it. But just that they have selected me, shows something."
Tagliani said his job at Fontana will be to both help Dixon from a technical standpoint over the course of the race weekend, then to stand between Dixon and Castroneves on the track.
"I've got some experience around Fontana and knowing the cars, and it was very important to have a good chemistry aspect with the team," Tagliani said. "But there are two things they are trying to do here — try to get a car that can steal points away and help get as many points for Scott."
Since his release following the Toronto race in July, Tagliani has been running sports cars. He said it's possible he'll continue with sports cars next season when Grand-Am and ALMS are merged into one series, but Tagliani also is considering a return to IndyCar.
"I've had a blast in the sports car, I really enjoyed it," he said. "We were in the fight every single weekend and I think there's some opportunities there. I've been in touch with some teams in IndyCar. It takes a lot of money to run IndyCar, so I am looking at sports car racing very seriously. But there's also been some IndyCar teams interested in me and it was quite flattering to have some calls."