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Andretti races paralyzed Schmidt in cars on track at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Mario Andretti showed everyone just how far technology has come in the world of racing.

On Saturday, the 77-year-old racing icon made a late pass in the grass and pulled away from Sam Schmidt in the final straightaway on the Indy track to win a semi-autonomous car race, an exhibition event where the real winners might be those trying to get back in the driver’s seat after suffering severe injuries.

Schmidt has been paralyzed from the neck down since a crash in January 2000.

“This is absolutely phenomenal. The benefits that this will provide worldwide to individuals like Sam, war veterans and so on and so forth; that alone with what Arrow Technologies has done is so noble,” Andretti said. “Again, I can’t say enough for how good this can be. It needs to be known that this technology is available.”

The two former IndyCar racers drove side-by-side and traded leads several times, controlling the cars with a high-tech headset that connected with infrared cameras on the dashboard. They steered by tilting their heads, accelerated and braked by breathing into a tube and switched gears by using voice commands.

At times, the cars topped 130 mph on Indy’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.

For the 52-year-old Schmidt, it was a treat to get back behind the steering wheel.

“It feels normal. It’s the first time in 17 years I’ve felt normal,” he said. “There are so many things I haven’t been able to teach my kids to do, to throw a football to driving a stick shift. To be able to come back and do this kind of stuff makes up for it a little bit.”

Schmidt has been a longtime favorite in Gasoline Alley and has stayed involved in the IndyCar Series as a team owner, starting a low-budget team and turning it into a multi-car effort that has emerged as a serious contender.

Since getting hurt, he has played a prominent role in raising money for spinal cord injury research and has been vocal supporter of promoting technological advancements, including self-autonomous cars.

Andretti’s only other win at the historic Brickyard came in the 1969 Indianapolis 500.

Since then, it’s been mostly heartbreak for the Andretti family. Mario Andretti was the 500 runner-up twice after his win and his grandson, Marco, finished as the 2006 runner-up. Michael Andretti, Mario’s son and Marco’s father, led more laps in the race than any other non-winning driver.

So, of course, when Schmidt challenged one of IndyCar’s most famous drivers to a race, Andretti said yes. Now, Schmidt wants a rematch.

“He didn’t cut me any slack, that’s for sure,” said Schmidt, joking.

More AP racing: http://racing.ap.org

Daniel Ricciardo to decide soon about moving from Red Bull to another F1 team

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) Daniel Ricciardo says over the next six weeks he wants to decide between staying at Red Bull or joining another Formula One team for next year.

Ricciardo said on Thursday at the French Grand Prix, “It would be nice to go on the summer break knowing what I am doing.”

F1 is working its way toward its three-week break in August with speculation mounting that Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren are interested in luring Ricciardo away from Red Bull for 2019.

“I will be honest, everyone is talking about Mercedes and Ferrari as potential places for me to go, and I am aware that there will be interest from other teams,” he said.

The Australian driver has won seven races in his four-plus seasons with Red Bull. He is fourth in the standings behind leader Sebastian Vettel heading into the race at the Paul Ricard Circuit near Marseille.

Ricciardo’s stock has risen in recent months after his victories in Shanghai and Monaco. His Monaco win was particularly impressive because Ricciardo had to deploy some masterful defensive driving to protect his lead after losing an estimated 25 percent of his engine power.

Ricciardo said he had not directly spoken to rivals Ferrari and Mercedes, but he hedged when asked if his manager had.

“People talk, have coffees, I will leave that one open-ended,” he said with a laugh.

Ricciardo called the decision on whether to go or stay with Red Bull the biggest choice of his career following his decision to leave his native Australia and continue his racing career in Europe over a decade ago.

“For sure the priority is to get a car to win the world title because I really believe I can,” he said. “I am slightly careful because it is easy to think the grass is greener and maybe it is, but I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change but just to make change for the sake of making a change is not enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it to jump ship.”

Red Bull announced recently it would be ending its 12-year partnership with engine-maker Renault and switching to Honda motors for next year.

Ricciardo was hesitant to endorse or criticize the change, saying he was going to “try to keep putting the pieces together if it is a good move.”

But with the question of the engine manufacturer out of the way, Ricciardo said Red Bull would likely be looking to resolve its drivers’ lineup for next year.

“I haven’t been pushed yet, but I would say that there will be some movement in the next week,” he said. “Whether that is something that gets put down on paper (or not), for sure the discussions will start to ramp up in the next few days.”