How does the man who won two titles in a Target Chip Ganassi Racing car react to the news that his old sponsor is leaving INDYCAR?
“It's shocking,” said Alex Zanardi, who took two Indy car championships and 14 wins in 51 starts in the Target Honda between 1996 and 1998. The department store concluded its 27-year Indy car sponsorship deal with Ganassi at the end of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
“You cannot think about INDYCAR without a Target car in it, but many things have changed — it's really sad it all came to an end.
“What stays behind is the great history that goes with all of the results. I was able to give a contribution, but Target has been successful with many drivers, starting with (Indy car champions) Jimmy Vasser, then myself, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and many others.”
(Read what Zanardi has been up to since turning 50 by clicking here.)
When many think of Zanardi behind the wheel of a Target-branded car, “The Pass” on Bryan Herta at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s famous corkscrew turn on the final lap of the 1996 Toyota Grand Prix of Monterey usually pops into mind.
Zanardi ambushed Herta with a sensational move going into the three-story downhill left-right corner, diving to the inside from several car lengths back before overshooting the corner and using the inside of the track to make the turn. The pair went side-by-side at the exit but Zanardi prevailed and led the next few hundred yards to the flag.
“It's what stands up as the most significant moment, at least as far as what fans may remember,” Zanardi said.
“To this day you just have to type 'The Pass' into YouTube and you get the video — you don't even have to put Zanardi or Target. I'm still very proud of that, but I had to be honest, technically speaking I had moments of better quality and intensity.”
He pointed to a late pass – once again his victim was Herta – but this time at Long Beach in 1998. It happened with two laps to go in the 1998 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and delivered a win in a race where he had to fight back from a lap down to be in contention for the victory.
“It came at the end of a race in a very long day where at a certain point I was a lap down, so the satisfaction I got out of it was greater,” Zanardi said from his home in Italy.
Off the track with Target, Zanardi fondly remembers his days doing appearances in stores with teammate Vasser and interacting with the company's employees and executives, which he described as a real family.
But what stayed with him most were the visits to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. During his time at Target Chip Ganassi, the company had a program where it would donate $25 to the hospital for every lap the team led.
Although Zanardi is particularly proud of the fact that his on-track efforts earned a lot of money for the hospital and its charges, it also helped him understand the significance of his role outside the car. Particularly in light of the horrific 2001 crash that amputated both his legs and ended his Indy car career, though Zanardi’s zest for life has taken him to success in many other area including Paralympic and marathon hand cycling and sports car racing using hand controls.
“In those days (driving for Target Chip Ganassi), I wasn't as sensitive to those things and I was grateful to Target for opening my eyes to the fact that we can't always take things for granted,” he said.
“Your trip in this life is very provisional, but the best thing you can do in your life to live in the right way is to take every day as a great opportunity to do what you can and when you're as lucky as I have been in life in getting so much attention and exposure, you learn that you can move mountains with a very small effort.”