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IndyCar - ALEX TAGLIANI Long Beach Has All The Ingredients

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INDIANAPOLIS, April 13, 2011: Driver Alex Tagliani is taking his wife, Bronte, to a special dinner Friday night in Los Angeles. The couple will be eating on the set of celebrity chef Gordan Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen. No doubt, the meal will be prepared with the finest of foods.

What has Tagliani excited, though, is the fact this weekend is one of his favorite IZOD IndyCar Series weekends of the year. It’s a racing event that he says has all the right ingredients.

This Sunday is the 37th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, one of the most prestigious open wheel racing events in the world. It’s also a race where Tagliani has experienced success, and that’s just one of the reasons he is looking forward to climbing into the Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone car Friday morning for the first practice session.

Tagliani loves everything about the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. From its knowledgeable, loyal fans to the challenging and fun street course to the scenic location, the Canadian driver says that Long Beach has all the “ingredients” that make up a great event.

As excited as Tagliani is for the Long Beach race, car owner Sam Schmidt listed a different set of ingredients that make the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach a special event for him.

Schmidt grew up in southern California, graduated from Pepperdine University and lived in Long Beach as a newlywed. As a kid and a fan, he attended 10 consecutive Long Beach Grand Prix with his parents. Now, he is returning to an event where he has strong sentimental attachment and as a car owner in the IZOD IndyCar Series for the first time.

Despite the difference in ingredients, a victory at Long Beach will taste sweet to driver Alex Tagliani and his car owner Sam Schmidt.

Alex Tagliani, Driver of the No. 77 B&W Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:

What makes the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach a great event?

“For a track or an event to be appreciated by the drivers, basically it needs three ingredients. The first one is that it has to be a really fun track to drive, than obviously the drivers will like it. And, it is (a fun track). The second is if drivers like to show up there earlier in the week and leave late, obviously the atmosphere will be one that the town lives for the event, and Long Beach has that. And also, all the support from the fans and the crowd make it a great event. Long Beach has a lot of history as a race, and when you show up in the paddock, you know that the fans that are coming to see the cars and asking questions and getting autographs, you can see their knowledgeable about our racing. They’ve been there. They’ve been faithful fans of IndyCar for a long, long time. Those are all the ingredients that make this event great. It’s a really big event that has helped put IndyCar on the map. For street course racing, it’s a very unique track with a beautiful layout, like the fountain corner is pretty impressive. It’s pretty unique for a street course to have a fountain in the middle of a race course and go around it. ”

You have seen significant success there and obviously love Long Beach. Why?

“I don’t know exactly why I’ve done well and like that circuit so much. I’ve done some good things on every kind of track. I’ve scored pole position at Milwaukee, which is a short oval. I’ve been on the pole at Fontana which is a superspeedway. Last year, we started on the front row at Brazil, which is a street course. I won at Elkhart Lake and been on the front row there and it’s a superfast road course. It’s not just because it’s Long Beach or not just because it’s a street course. For some reason at that particular track, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive fairly good cars and have been able to excel at that particular course. I’ve come up short there a couple of times. I won my first Atlantic’s race in Long Beach. I had some good finishes in CART. And in IndyCar, I think Rob (Edwards, team manager) and I worked together in 2008 and we were on the front row there. It’s a track where you score well and run well, as a driver, you end up liking it. It’s just normal. All the ingredients have to be there for you to do well there as a driver. And since I’ve done well there, I end up liking it more.”

Sam Schmidt, Owner of the No. 77 B&W Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports:

What’s it mean to you to finally take an IZOD IndyCar Series team to the Long Beach Grand Prix?

“I’m incredibly excited. I grew up in Los Angeles, San Bernardino Valley. I actually went to 10 consecutive Long Beach Grand Prix as a kid with my parents. I really, really want to get a victory at the Long Beach circuit, not only in Indy Lights, but there would be nothing more pleasurable than an Indy Car victory, probably only second to an Indianapolis 500. There will be a lot of family and friends there, so it will be a busy weekend. There’s definitely a lot of history there, and again, I’m really looking forward to it.”

What are some of the memories you have of Long Beach as a fan?

“I would have to say the battles of Al Unser Jr. at Long Beach are my favorite memories there. That whole era, you know, Penske, Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy, you know. There have been just some phenomenal battles at Long Beach, and I think history has proven that race is not over until the checker flag falls. Over the years, there’s been a lot of strategy and last lap action. It’s just a great atmosphere down by the waterfront. Now that they’ve completely redeveloped Long Beach over the past five or six years, it’s a great place to go and entertain.”