Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald soaks up IndyCar hot laps

Photo: Rising Star Racing
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Arizona’s king of professional athletes at the moment is probably Arizona Cardinals star wideout Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald’s incredible hands, athleticism and ability as a possession receiver is unquestioned; five years after he retires, there’s good odds Canton, Ohio will be calling him.

He’s not known as a speed demon but when he gets in the open field he can make things happen… and when you’re a Green Bay Packers fan, you’re still annoyed that the Packers didn’t double him in overtime even as you tip your cap to him for his incredible effort.

The point of that preamble is that Arizona’s star athlete was a guest this past weekend at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, where he got a greater introduction to the speed of racing, thanks to Rising Star Racing and Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports – the two-seater INDYCAR Experience.

The veteran receiver, 32, got to meet both one of racing’s living legends in Mario Andretti, as well as a couple of up-and-coming rising stars.

In the process, Fitzgerald got to have a couple hot laps at more than 160-plus mph with Andretti behind the wheel.

“I was nervous going into that first turn, just how fast he was coming out here,” Fitzgerald, the nine-time Pro Bowler, told IndyCar.com. “It was exhilarating, it really was. All the turns are scary. I felt like I wanted to hit the brakes, he was going to the wall a little bit too fast. It was a great experience, I had a wonderful time. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”

He added, “This is much more of a rush (than being on the football field). I’m tired after just two laps!”

Fitzgerald, Rising Star Racing principal Art Wilmes and Spencer Pigot. Photo: Rising Star Racing
Fitzgerald, Rising Star Racing principal Art Wilmes and Spencer Pigot. Photo: Rising Star Racing

Rising Star Racing made the invite, and thus Fitzgerald got to spend a lot of time with two of its drivers – Spencer Pigot of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (IndyCar) and Neil Alberico of Carlin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires).

Pigot – who made his IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg – elaborated on Fitzgerald’s day in the IndyCar world.

“It all came about through Rising Star Racing, who invited him out here to experience the weekend, and experience the track and speed,” Pigot told NBC Sports. “We got him set up with a two-seater ride with Mario. He got to spend some time with Neil, and look at the Lights car.

“He’s an awesome guy. He was so interested in IndyCar, with the speed and the technology. It was cool to be able to tell him about our sport.”

The athletes swapped respective stories.

“I was asking where he’d played college football (Pitt), their training regimine, and what they do for a game. It’s hugely intense. It’s only 16 weeks, but it’s every weekend, day in practice, and it totally beats him up.

“He was really interested in the racing especially on the oval, the speeds and techniques with aerodynamics, why you don’t necessarily see guys right behind them. It’s very open and interesting.”

Pigot made an interesting comparison describing the endurance factor required for racing compared to football. Both take skill in different ways.

“He’s in an explosive environment where they unload speed and strength for each play,” Pigot said. “Here, it’s a bit more endurance. He wasn’t actually driving the car, so it’s maybe not a direct comparison, but he was sweating after he got out. It was scary and intense, but he had a blast.

He added, “Man, he had big smile on his face! He totally enjoyed it and couldn’t believe how quick it was. But I know he wanted to keep going, because he had a blast.”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.