Carb Day news and notes

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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.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.