Photo: Rising Star Racing

Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald soaks up IndyCar hot laps

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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.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.