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.

March 29 in Motorsports History: Scott Dixon wins first race after reunification

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Reunited and it felt so good.

That’s what drivers likely thought before the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the first time since 1995, major-league open-wheel racing in the United States was under the banner of a sole sanctioning body as Champ Car and the Indy Racing Leauge had reunified just a month prior.

Scott Dixon celebrates after winning the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead. Photo: Jim Hines/IndyCar.

The first race after reunification also saw a reversal of fortunes for Scott Dixon, who won the race after losing the 2007 IRL championship in crushing fashion.

In the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, Dixon ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap of the race. The race victory – and championship – went to Dixon’s future teammate, Dario Franchitti.

But the tides turned for Dixon nearly seven months later, and the Kiwi was able to win with the help of another driver’s misfortune.

Tony Kanaan was leading with seven laps remaining when E.J. Viso spun and made contact with Kanaan’s car. Kanaan remained on track through the caution period despite suffering obvious damage to his right front suspension.

On the final restart with three laps remaining, Dixon and others cars easily passed Kanaan’s wounded car on the outside. Dixon then maintained his lead through the checkered flag to win at Homestead for the second time in his career.

“I think Marco (Andretti) and T.K. probably had a little bit better cars today, but we came through with the win, and that’s what counts,” Dixon told ESPN after his 12th career victory.

Following his victory at Homestead, Dixon continued to redeem himself through the course of the 2008 season. In May, he won the Indianapolis 500 for the first (and so far only) time. Following Indy, he went on to win four more times in 2008 and won his second series championship.

Also on this date:

1998: Mika Hakkinen won the Grand Prix of Brazil, the first of eight victories in his first championship season.

2010: Will Power won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was held on a Monday morning because of rain postponing the race on Sunday.

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