“The Pass” occurred 20 years ago today, when Zanardi passed Herta (VIDEO)

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MONTEREY, Calif. – Today marks a special milestone in both Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and North American open-wheel racing history, as it’s 20 years to the day when Alex Zanardi completed the move known as “The Pass” on Bryan Herta at the Corkscrew at the top of the hill.

A release from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is below:

It was 20 years ago today that Alex Zanardi pulled off, and Bryan Herta had an unfortunate front row seat to, one of the greatest passes in the history of motor sports.

It’s the possibility to make IndyCar history that serves as the inspiration for today’s up-and-coming open wheel drivers who will compete Sept. 9-11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the Mazda Road to Indy season finale. Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires, and Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda are the three open-wheel competition rungs that make up the Mazda Road to Indy. Those series will be joined this weekend by the IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires and the inaugural Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational to create a true “Mazdapalooza” weekend.

“The Pass,” as it simply became known, took place Sept. 8, 1996, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at The Corkscrew turns on the last lap of the Monterey Grand Prix, the final race of the 1996 PPG Indy Car World Series. The two decades that have since passed have turned the amazing pass into folklore drivers and race fans still talk about.

Herta, driving the No. 28 Rahal Reynard Mercedes, was leading Zanardi, who started from pole in the No. 4 Target Ganassi Racing Reynard Honda, on the 83rd and final lap. As the two entered the braking zone at the top of The Corkscrew, Zanardi dove left to the inside entering Turn 8, came in hot so the car shot to the outside on exit of Turn 8 but with the lead. The entire car was outside the rumble strip to the right and Zanardi’s right-side tires were in the dirt both entering and exiting Turn 8A, the exit of The Corkscrew. He went on to win the race, his third of the year, while teammate Jimmy Vasser finished fourth and clinched the championship for Target Ganassi Racing.

As part of the Mazda Road to Indy weekend, Military Appreciation Day on Sat., Sept. 10, will honor the heroism and dedication of the men and women of our U.S. Military. All military personnel with valid U.S. Military-issued identification are admitted free with one guest on Sept. 10 for the Mazda Road to Indy races. Children 12 and under are admitted free.

Gates open each day at 7 a.m., with tickets starting at $20 (every ticket includes a paddock pass). Click HERE to purchase tickets for the Mazda Road to Indy as well as the Pirelli World Challenge, the fifth and final event of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s 2016 major event season.

Click HERE for the full schedule of events during Mazda Road to Indy.

Photos: Al Manley

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race the No. 3 vs. IndyCar stars in Michigan iRacing

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).