As quickly because the nationwide anthem ended and a few navy jets flew over city on the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, the Indy Racing Expertise workers helped me get into the again seat of Honda’s two-seat 500-horsepower Indy automotive. Helmet and gloves on, I sat down with knee-high knees and was strapped to the seat. The 90 diploma Florida climate and 100 p.c humidity left me suffocating in my hearth 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 may clearly see Mario Andretti’s brown eyes within the facet mirrors. He seemed like he was concentrating and was able to take off as quickly as he acquired the sign.
“We’ll have a pleasant drive in entrance of the sphere; we’ll begin the race,” mentioned Andretti as we walked to the pit lane minutes earlier than stepping into the two-seater. “We’ll be the primary to offer it our all.”
What neither Andretti nor I knew on the time is that this journey, my Journey, could be the ultimate official trip within the Honda two-seater Indy automotive. Only a week after the 2020 Indy Automotive season ended on that damp Florida afternoon, Honda introduced it will finish its 15-year sponsorship of the quickest seat within the sport and would now use the time within the races to purchase Honda manufacturing autos to indicate that might flip into such Gross sales.
Andretti and Indy Racing Expertise will almost certainly proceed to supply rides for the 2021 season underneath the sponsorship of one other model. The legendary driver had no intention of stopping this Sunday afternoon. “I do not depart something on the desk,” he mentioned earlier than hitting the observe. “I am protected, however consider me, I am operating as arduous as I can.” And as I sat behind a racing legend, I noticed he was nonetheless passionate.
Because the St. Petersburg Grand Prix makes use of a road circuit, there isn’t a room for error. The route is slender and the partitions are tight. The 2-seater is not as highly effective as the traditional Indy automotive, and its proportions are bigger. I had the sensation that we had been just a few inches away from the wall in some tight turns. However Andretti knew precisely the place to put the tires, when to brake and when to speed up.
After I warmed up the tires on the primary lap, the adrenaline set in. It was surreal to really feel the G-forces on my physique after I heard the V-6 engine roar behind me as we sprinted down the runway of a neighborhood airport that was deemed to be prepared for the race. I could not hear something aside from my calls and the double beat of wind noise and the pleasant vroom-vroom Sound that appeared too loud at decibel ranges for heavy metallic rock concert events. If I used to be happening the straight at 165 mph, I needed to readjust my helmet a few occasions.
The entire second was particular – the joys of being strapped right into a two-seater racing automotive and having the person with essentially the most well-known identify in motorsport on the wheel. However beginning an Indy race was just under that. This corresponds to the warm-up with Rafa Nadal earlier than the beginning of the tennis match or Leo Messi’s penalty shoot-out on the purpose earlier than the beginning of the sport. It simply does not occur. Nonetheless, the St. Petersburg Grand Prix began with Andretti and me on the entrance of the two-seater, adopted by the Civic Sort R Tempo Automotive and the 2 dozen Indy automobiles proper behind. Simply as we pulled into the pit lane after three “warm-up” laps, the race started.
For Andretti, this was one other day within the workplace. For the previous 15 years, he has provided rides to fortunate followers, journalists, and celebrities like Woman Gaga. That humid Sunday was no completely different – it gave over a dozen rides within the morning earlier than beginning the race with you that afternoon.
For Andretti, who was Method 1, Indy Automotive and NASCAR champion (and drives both a Lamborghini Aventador or a C7 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 every single day), one would assume that he was in a 500-horsepower two-seater Indy Driving wouldn’t be that stimulating or entertaining. However after I requested him if he may nonetheless really feel the adrenaline on such drives, he nodded with a delicate smile on his face.
As I stepped out of Honda’s two-seater, I did not have the fitting phrases to clarify how thrilling the trip was. There was a mixture of pleasant feelings as I attempted to gather my ideas – from the adrenaline dashing via my veins to the sensation of being pushed by the legend itself. I nonetheless dream concerning the trip.
We actually hope to see Andretti on the observe subsequent 12 months. What I felt on this journey ought to be skilled by many extra.