DiZinno: Why a ride in Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports is thoroughly awesome

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With Honda’s future involvement in IndyCar a hot topic of discussion this summer, it’s worth noting how much at-track activation they do as it is – proof positive that Honda has so much more invested in IndyCar beyond the on-track product.

From the pace car program to the IndyCar fan village, the new Safety Car to on-site hospitality, it’s apparent that Honda does so much on a typical race weekend that you need to factor in enough time to see all the programs on the ground.

One of the areas where Honda is involved is with the two-seater rides, dubbed the Fastest Seat in Sports, where invited guests and fans have the opportunity to ride in a two-seater with either one of North America’s greatest ever drivers, Mario Andretti, or a recent open-wheel veteran.

Conor Daly and Martin Plowman also serve as Honda Fastest Seat in Sports two-seater drivers, with Zach Veach also on-board in the older Firestone two-seater via the Two-Seater Experience.

Whoever the Fastest Seat in Sports driver is that weekend will be scheduled to come to Fan Village and make appearances/Q&As and autograph signings.

I had the opportunity to ride in a two-seater during the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park a couple months ago, and if you’re wondering why I’m just getting to this post now, it’s due to the fact that IndyCar hasn’t had a week to breathe since two weeks before Barber in April, and it would invariably get lost in the shuffle.

Or that the ride itself does a good enough job of taking your breath away.

When you’ve had other two-seater rides before, in sports cars, you at least have a reference point. Riding shotgun in the passenger’s seat alongside at tracks such as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Miller Motorsports Park or Sonoma Raceway provide good examples of the sense of G-loading, speed, braking and elevation changes that drivers go through.

I’d had a ride-along at Barber before, and with arguably one of sports car racing’s most successful drivers in Hurley Haywood. The difference was, that occurred in a Porsche 911 on a damp track, and while Hurley undoubtedly could have pushed it, he opted not to for safety purposes. Good man, I said.

Race morning at Barber on this occasion dawned under similar conditions – overcast skies, a damp but drying track and the triumvirate of Daly, Plowman and Veach preparing for the hot laps.

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Fastest Seat in Sports ready to go, as am I. Photo: Tony DiZinno

First off, you get properly suited and booted when you’re going through the check-in at the Honda Fastest Seat in Sports transporter.

There’s an allure the first time you put a firesuit on anyway, particularly if you’re not a full-time driver or crewmember, so actually seeing yourself in gear getting ready to go is the first cool moment.

Then, Daly arrives. The 23-year-old Noblesville, Ind. native was a week removed from arguably the greatest 17th-place finish in recent memory. He got drafted in to race the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda in Long Beach in the middle of eating breakfast at Honda hospitality Saturday morning, with almost no practice time to prepare.

“Now I’m back to my day job,” he jokes.

The process is then about anticipation. Get your firesuit all set to go, get your headsock, gloves and helmet on and prepare to launch.

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Daly, Veach and Plowman ready to turn laps. Photo: Tony DiZinno

I’d figured I’d be in the back of Daly’s car but as we were all moved into position once through, I wound up staging to ride in Veach’s car.

Still good to go. And then we were off.

First up, your legs are in close and pressed up against the cockpit sides as you sink into the seat. If it’s relatively uncomfortable for a lap and a half, imagine how uncomfortable it is for two to three hours.

Second, the noise isn’t nearly as loud as I thought it would be. You’re not issued any earplugs but the noise doesn’t drown out the whole experience – with the engine behind you and the gearshifts going up and down as planned, it’s a normal ride.

From there, commence roller coaster. It’s down through Turn 1, up through 2, back down through 3 and then full-on, power-down, head thrown back and hang on through the rise in 4 before the full acceleration and dive into 5, the tight left-hand hairpin that serves as Barber’s most prominent passing point.

The back portion of the track is awesome once you’ve cleared the double-apex right hander through Turns 7, 8 and 9. The 10/11 and 12/13 pair of left/right, left/right full-on shifts are just mega – you’re wowed at the change of direction and the G’s as they hit.

Again, this was in the older car, so the Honda two-seater is almost certainly even quicker and fractionally more stable through this section.

Veach completed the final rise, fall and rise again back through the final corners and into pit lane. It had only been one lap, but it’s truly a rush.

“I have a lot of fun driving the two-seater,” Veach told me after the ride. “The crew is so awesome. I’ve had such a good time working with them.

“Conor Daly and I make the joke, it’s the first time we’ve been paid to drive a race car! Giving people a ride they’ll remember is special.”

Veach, who has raced a Prototype Challenge car once this year and has several prior Barber starts in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda, reflected on the Barber track.

“You either have people, where they are really stoked to do it, really scared, or really sick. You try to not get many sick people; you don’t want to get thrown up on! Luckily they’re behind you.

“Barber is one of those places, with the G-loads, you can have a good time. People get an idea what we go through in a real race car.

“The most common reaction I get is how much more they understand what we go through and appreciate what we do now.”

Indeed. As if I needed another reason to remember why I write about this sport instead of drive in it…

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”