Phoenix notebook: NFL superstar Fitzgerald feels range of emotions in INDYCAR two-seater

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AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals superstar wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has about seen it all in the sporting world – he thought. Then he strapped in behind legendary Mario Andretti in the INDYCAR Experience two-seat Indy car for a speed ride around Phoenix International Raceway today before the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

Fitzgerald experienced all the emotions: thrill, awe and, he admitted, a good amount of fear.

“It was unbelievable,” the 32-year-old nine-time Pro Bowl selection said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I was nervous going into that first turn, just how fast he was coming out here. It was exhilarating, it really was. All the turns are scary. I felt like I wanted to hit the brakes, he was going to the wall a little bit too fast. It was a great experience, I had a wonderful time. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”

Fitzgerald has played in a Super Bowl, been the Pro Bowl MVP and is fifth all time in NFL receiving yards, but nothing on the gridiron compared what experienced traveling around PIR’s 1.022-mile oval at speeds exceeding 160 mph.

“This is much more of a rush (than being on the football field). I’m tired after just two laps!” he said.

It also reinforced Fitzgerald’s appreciation for the true athleticism of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers.

“I’ve always had great appreciation for them and what they are able to do out here on this track,” he said. “To be able to get in that car and go at those speeds, that’s exhilarating. It’s unbelievable how they’re able to control those vehicles at these speeds with so many cars so close to them.”

But asked if he wanted to jump back in the two-seater and try it again, he smiled and declined.

“Ummm, no thanks,” he said. “I feel like I just escaped death already, just that time.”

Rahal has already been on Phoenix podium

Bobby and Graham RahalGraham Rahal will race for the first time at Phoenix International Raceway in tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. But he’s already been on the podium.

At age 3, Graham joined father Bobby atop the PIR podium after his dad won the race almost exactly 24 years ago, on April 5, 1992 (photo at right). It was the first year of team ownership for Bobby, winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500, and he went on to win the CART championship for Rahal Hogan Racing.

Joining the Rahals on the PIR podium that year was a pretty elite group. The second-place finisher was Eddie Cheever Jr., winner of the 1998 Indy 500, and the third-place finisher was Emerson Fittipaldi, winner of the Indy 500 in both 1989 and 1993.

Foyt team makes supreme effort to repair Sato’s car

Three Verizon IndyCar Series entries crashed in practice or qualifying April 1 for tonight’s 250-lap race. Two – those driven by James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz – were repaired in time to turn laps in the April 1 evening practice. Meanwhile, the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing crew was feverishly working in its garage to get Takuma Sato’s No. 14 Honda in running condition.

The effort continued into today. The team was granted a few on-track minutes this afternoon by INDYCAR to run some laps to make sure driver and machine were ready to race.

Asked how much was damaged in the Turn 1 crash less than 10 minutes into the first practice session, team president Larry Foyt said, “Pretty much everything but the tub, really.

“The whole back of the car, pretty much every corner, engine, gearbox. It was about as complete as you can do without totally writing one off. It was a lot of work.

“We wrecked early, about 10 a.m. yesterday and they worked straight through until 10 p.m. and came back in this morning at 8 or 9. It was a lot of work, but it was our best option because our speedway car is going to Indy to test (on April 6). It was what we were faced with and easier than going to a backup car.”

Foyt praised the dedicated effort of his crew.

“The guys did a great job getting it all together,” he said, “and thanks to INDYCAR for letting us shake it down to make sure it was safe and that Takuma was OK to drive the race.”

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