As quickly because the nationwide anthem completed and a few navy jets flew over the straightaway on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the Indy Racing Expertise employees helped me get into the rear seat of Honda’s two-seat 500-hp Indy automotive. Helmet and gloves on, I sat down with my knees chest excessive and acquired strapped to the seat. The 90-degree Florida climate and what felt like 100 % humidity had me suffocating in my fireplace swimsuit, till one other good gentleman—umbrella in hand—requested me if I needed some shade. I nodded. Though most of my view was blocked by the entrance seat, I might clearly see Mario Andretti’s brown eyes mirrored within the sideview mirrors. He seemed like he was concentrating, able to take off as quickly as he acquired the sign.
“We’re gonna take a pleasant experience forward of the sector; we’ll begin the race,” Andretti had stated as we have been strolling to the pit lane minutes earlier than we acquired within the two-seater. “We’ll be the primary ones to go flat out.”
What neither Andretti nor I knew at the moment is that this experience, my experience, was going to be the final official experience within the Honda two-seater Indy automotive. Only a week after the 2020 Indy Automotive season concluded that moist afternoon in Florida, Honda introduced it was ending its 15-year sponsorship of the Quickest Seat in Sports activities and would now use the time on the races to point out Honda manufacturing autos that would flip into gross sales.
Andretti and Indy Racing Expertise will most definitely proceed to supply rides for the 2021 season, below one other model’s sponsorship. The legendary driver did not have any intentions of stopping that Sunday afternoon. “I do not depart something on the desk,” he stated earlier than he walked out to the monitor. “I am secure, however imagine me, I run as laborious because the factor can go.” And sitting behind a racing legend, I might inform he was nonetheless passionate.
As a result of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg makes use of a road circuit, there is no room for error. The monitor is slender, and the partitions are shut. The 2-seater is not as highly effective because the common Indy automotive, and its proportions are greater, so I felt like we have been inches from the wall throughout a number of the tight turns. However Andretti knew precisely the place to put the tires, when to brake, and when to hit the fuel.
After warming up the tires on the primary lap, the adrenaline kicked in. It was surreal to really feel the g-forces on my physique whereas listening to the V-6 engine behind me roar as we sprinted down the runway of a neighborhood airport used because the straightaway for the race. I could not hear anything besides my shouts and the double-whammy of wind noise and that pleasant vroom-vroom sound that gave the impression to be enjoying at decibel ranges too loud for heavy steel rock live shows. Flying down the straight at 165 mph had me readjusting my helmet a few instances.
The entire second was particular—the fun of being strapped right into a two-seat race automotive and having the person with essentially the most well-known identify in motorsports on the wheel. However beginning an Indy race was proper under that. That is the equal of enjoying warmup with Rafa Nadal earlier than the tennis match begins or having Leo Messi take a penalty kick with you on the objective previous to the beginning of the sport. This simply would not occur. But the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg began with Andretti and me main within the two-seater, adopted by the Civic Type R tempo automotive and the 2 dozen Indy automobiles proper behind. Simply as we pulled into the pit lane after three “warmup” laps, the race was beginning.
For Andretti, this was one other day on the workplace. For the previous 15 years he is been giving rides to fortunate followers, journalists, and celebrities, akin to Woman Gaga. That damp Sunday was no completely different—he gave greater than a dozen rides within the morning previous to beginning the race with yours really within the afternoon.
For Andretti, somebody who has been a Formulation 1, Indy Car, and NASCAR champion (and who each day drives both a Lamborghini Aventador or C7 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1), you’d assume that giving rides in a 500-hp two-seater Indy automotive would not be that energizing or entertaining. However after I requested him if he nonetheless feels the adrenaline when giving rides like these, he nodded with a delicate smile on his face.
As I stepped out of Honda’s two-seater, I did not have the phrases to clarify how thrilling the experience was. There was a mixture of wonderful emotions as I attempted to collect my ideas—from the epinephrine touring by means of my veins to the feeling of being pushed by the legend himself. I am nonetheless daydreaming in regards to the experience.
We actually hope to see Andretti on the monitor subsequent yr; what I felt on that experience ought to be skilled by many extra.