Happy 79th Birthday, A.J. Foyt (VIDEO)

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One of the most important people in American auto racing history is celebrating a birthday today, as four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and current IndyCar Series team owner A.J. Foyt is turning 79 years old.

It’s very difficult to sum up how much “SuperTex” – also a former champion of NASCAR’s Daytona 500, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans – has meant to the sport over the years.

Rising from the dirt tracks of Houston, Texas in the 1950s, Foyt became famous the world over for his talent behind the wheel in many different racing disciplines. He also became, and still is, well-known for his toughness.

Foyt forged ahead with his driving career by overcoming many calamities, including a 1965 stock car crash at Riverside that left him so badly injured he was initially pronounced dead and a 1990 CART accident at Road America that ended with his shattered legs being dug out of a dirt embankment.

He’s also survived several off-track events post-career as well, such as being stung more than 200 times by Africanized killer bees on his Texas ranch in 2005 and a staph infection in 2012.

But even though he’s been through many trials and tribulations, Foyt has endured through it all to become a treasured figure on the American sports landscape.

“If I was reborn tomorrow, I wouldn’t change nothing,” Foyt told IndyCar.com in an interview last September. “I don’t think a lot of people could say that. I know what it’s like to be on the bottom. I know what it’s like to be on the top and I know what it’s like to be in the middle. I’ve been up that ladder like a yo-yo.

“I’m on the downhill run. Every day is like a new day with me.”

And we certainly hope today’s been a great day for A.J.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.