Tagliani, Tracy dominate early, struggle late at Honda Indy Toronto

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TORONTO - For a time, Canadian drivers Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani dominated the Honda Indy Toronto.
Tracy looked like a champion in front of his hometown crowd Sunday, climbing from 15th place to second. And Tagliani, from Lachenaie, Que., made a hard charge from the outset and eventually led for 21 of the 85 laps.
But after sitting 1-2 for nearly a quarter of the race, the Canadians' luck ran out.
A slow pit change crippled Tagliani and when he tried to pass South Africa's Tomas Scheckter on Lap 74, Tagliani damaged his front wing, knocking Scheckter out of the race. Tagliani finished ninth, while an angry Scheckter threw his racing gloves at the Canadian on the next pass.
Tracy didn't even cross the finish line. Battling Brazil's Helio Castroneves for second place on Lap 66, Tracy tried to pass but was grinded into the wall after Castroneves swerved into him.
"I'm relieved and I'm frustrated," said Tracy. "To come from 15th and to pass the guys that I passed was a good feeling. Nobody else was doing that on the track other than me so I'm happy that I ran well but the end result, I felt we should have been on the podium."
Tagliani had mixed feelings after leading a race for the first time since a 2007 Champ Car event in San Jose, Calif. He said he wasn't to blame for the dust-up that knocked Scheckter out of the race.
"I had a great run and I got in there, and the door shut off like a funnel so we got caught into a racing incident," said Tagliani.
"At the end of the day, we fought back to eighth position (and slipped to ninth). It was kind of good, but for leading the race and being so competitive, I was a little disappointed."
Scotland's Dario Franchitti, who started in the pole position, won his second race at Toronto, 1.6745 seconds ahead of Ryan Briscoe. Australia's Will Power was third. Franchitti last won at Exhibition Place back in 1999, finishing just ahead of then-teammate Tracy.
Despite the result, Sunday's race may have given Tagliani and Tracy's uncertain careers a boost.
After all, it was only a week ago Tagliani was sitting on his couch at home watching Watkins Glen because Conquest Racing didn't have the money to race the part-time driver.
The 36-year-old, who showed his sponsor support to the crowd by wearing an Egyptian headdress during the introductions, said he preferred being behind the wheel rather than in front of a television.
"It's not a fun situation," said Tagliani, last year's Indy Car rookie of the year. "You're getting really destroyed inside and it's really difficult to watch everybody race. I've never been a good spectator anyway."
Although his pieces of his car were carried off the track, Tracy said the race was good for his morale. The 40-year-old driver, who finished the second of a three-race deal with KV Racing, spun out last Sunday at Watkins Glen but looked as though he might win for a third time on the Toronto track.
"I know that I can run with these guys," said Tracy, who is hoping to be offered a full-time ride in 2010. "I passed (Scott) Dixon, I passed the top guys in the sport. I just need to qualify a little bit better, have a little bit better qualifying car, and in terms of a race driver I know I've still got what it takes.
"You know a lot of people were saying, `Ah, you're too old. You can't compete with these guys anymore.' I think I proved them wrong."
Tracy also had kind words for Tagliani. The two drivers have feuded in the past but Tracy was gracious after the race.
"He's a tremendous driver, and although we've had our issues over the years, he's a very good driver and never had a really great chance at it," said Tracy.
"He proved what he can do today, I proved what I can do today. Hopefully next year we'll be in the series."

Organizations: Honda Indy Toronto

Geographic location: TORONTO, South Africa, Brazil Watkins Glen San Jose, Calif. Scotland Australia

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