May 24, 2013, 7:00 PM EDT
One of the greatest IndyCar drivers of the last 20 years – and a hero to countless thousands for his recovery after losing his legs in an accident – finally had his day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
On Friday, Chip Ganassi presented Alex Zanardi with the car that Zanardi used to complete “The Pass” on Bryan Herta at Mazda Raceway – then called Laguna Seca Raceway – in the 1996 CART season finale. The pass to Herta’s inside going into the Corkscrew entered iconic status mere moments after he pulled it off, and is widely considered one of the best finishes in racing history.
“It is really difficult to put it into words,” said Zanardi, who admitted he’s rarely speechless. “Laguna Seca in 1996, of all the highlights of my racing career, was probably the most emotional one and the one that actually changed my life. I was very lucky that day, don’t get me wrong, but had I not tried that move, who knows what my racing career would have been?
“For sure, it changed a lot of things. The perception of all the people watching was that, after that day, I was a different guy, I was definitely a guy to keep an eye on. I’m sure I won a lot of fans that day and caused come controversy, as well. But, hey, this is what keeps us alive, and I was definitely alive that day.”
Zanardi, who raced in CART from 1996 through 1998 and 2001, never had a chance to race in the Indianapolis 500. His CART career included back-to-back championships in 1997 and ’98 after winning series rookie-of-the-year honors in 1996.
His 2001 accident in Germany cost him both his legs, but with prosthetics, Zanardi has become an inspiration as a Gold Medal-winning Paralympic bicyclist.
In a battle of three-time “500″ winners, Helio Castroneves and his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet team defeated Dario Franchitti and his No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda squad in the finals of today’s Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition. Castroneves’ team rattled off a 10.1-second pit stop en route to a total time of 14.475 seconds, which was enough to best Franchitti’s team (pit stop: 11.017 seconds; total time: 14.854 seconds).
The No. 3 side, which earned $50,000 for their efforts, had earned a first-round “bye” before ousting Tony Kanaan’s No. 11 KV Racing Technology crew in Round 2 and then Oriol Servia’s No. 22 Panther DRR group in the semifinals to set up their finals match-up with Franchitti’s No. 10 team.
IndyCar is hoping to help bring future engineers, mechanics and fans to the sport with a new initiative that takes lessons in science, technology, engineering and math and applies them to the 220+ mile per hour world of open-wheel racing.
Together with Project Lead the Way and Jostens, the IndyCar “Future of Fast” project will feature an at-track program for eighth graders that takes them through five learning pods (car, engine, fuel, safety and tires) related to IndyCar racing. After going through each pod, the students will then put their newfound knowledge to use in a virtual setting.
The program begins with this year’s Indianapolis 500 and will go to the upcoming IZOD IndyCar Series events at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, Texas Motor Speedway, the Grand Prix of Baltimore, Houston’s Reliant Park and Auto Club Speedway outside Los Angeles. Future expansion of the program to other IndyCar markets in the United States is planned.
“Our sport is deeply rooted in science and engineering, so it’s important for us to create opportunities for students to see the connection between what they study and real-world situations,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co. (IndyCar’s parent company).
“This is another way for us to reach youngsters to help ignite their interest in math and science, and it’s a way for us to become more involved in the communities where we compete.”
Lazier Partners Racing chief mechanic Dennis LaCava has earned the 2013 Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award after guiding 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Lazier into his 17th start at the Brickyard last weekend.
LaCava, who worked with Lazier in the past as part of Hemelgarn Racing, joined the team less than a week before practice for the “500″ began. Lazier’s No. 91 Chevrolet didn’t run any timed laps until last Friday, but LaCava led the crew in helping him get into the show on the inside of Row 11.
“I figure us mechanics are kind of like Minutemen or something,” LaCava said in a statement. “It always works out at the last minute and off we go.”
LaCava will receive $5,000 and a plaque, and will also have his name etched on the permanent Clint Brawner Award trophy that is housed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.