Castroneves digs chance to assist Phoenix project groundbreaking
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves earned Phoenix Raceway's "Speed King" moniker and a real crown last year when he won the Phoenix Grand Prix's pole position by officially setting the track record on the historic 1.022-mile oval with a stunning lap of 192.631 mph and two-lap average of 192.324.
Today, the Brazilian broke new ground. Literally.
Castroneves traded his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet for a different kind of machine prior to the final day of the two-day Verizon IndyCar Series open test - an excavator.
Castroneves was asked to officially break ground for the "Phoenix Raceway Project powered by DC Solar," a $178 million modernization for the facility that hosts the Verizon IndyCar Series race. He joined Bryan Sperber, the Phoenix Raceway president, and Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, as well as other dignitaries including 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner Tom Sneva for the ceremony outside Turn 2.
The Team Penske driver took controls of the excavator to do the honors of digging up the first shovelful of dirt.
"That was something," said Castroneves. "It was the first time I was in one of those machines. Normally I'm told not to break things. This is the first time they are telling me to actually break things."
Frye was honored that members of INDYCAR played a central role in the ceremony, making it part of the track's Prix View day that allowed fans to attend track action and the groundbreaking free of charge.
"We're certainly very proud to be part of it," Frye said. "We're very proud to be here and to be back here. It's spectacular what they are doing to this facility. It's already a great facility, a great setting, great area and great history. Now it's going to have spectacular amenities, great for the fans, so it's a really great time for us to be back."
Late-night icon Leno takes wheel of Indy car
Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon took on driving instructor duties today, but his student was no ordinary novice.
Comedian and former "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno was at Phoenix Raceway today, driving an Indy car under the watchful eyes of Dixon for an upcoming segment of "Jay Leno's Garage" on CNBC. The episode slated for July airing will also include a segment taped two weeks ago when Leno went on a ride-along with Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner Sam Schmidt in the Arrow semi-autonomous motorcar (SAM) Corvette that the quadriplegic Schmidt drives using breath, voice and head movements.
Following instructions this morning from Dixon in the Chip Ganassi Racing pit, Leno turned laps on the Phoenix Raceway oval in one of the INDYCAR Experience single-seaters - at speeds less than half the 190 mph or so that Dixon averages in his No. 9 Honda. Nevertheless, Leno - the self-described car fanatic - was thrilled with the experience.
"Really fun," Leno said. "I've driven cars with more power but not that much grip. The level of grip in these is unbelievable. Doing road cars on an oval or something, you feel it start to slip, and this doesn't move at all. It's just planted. That's the biggest difference, I think."
Leno's connection to Indy car racing is extended. He was the honorary pace car driver for the 1999 Indianapolis 500. He was treated to an Indy car two-seater ride two years ago at Auto Club Speedway with legend Mario Andretti at the wheel.
Dixon enjoyed the experience of working with the iconic television star.
"It's great to see his passion for racing and how knowledgeable he was on the whole INDYCAR field and drivers and different eras," Dixon said. "But it was also nice just to chat about different cars, about the new Ford GT and different things.
"He did a really good job (driving) and he's not scared. He's really laid back, relaxed. I think for a lot of people this would be a daunting experience, but he definitely took it in stride and really seemed to enjoy it."
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