As if competing in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil wasn’t significant enough, Alex Tagliani and AJ Foyt Racing have upped the ante with their entry for the monumental event.
The driver and team unveiled Tuesday the No. 35 Alfe Heat Treating Special Honda that Tagliani will drive in both the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course May 14 and in the epic 100th Indy 500 on the 2.5-mile oval May 29. The private ceremony took place at the Foyt Wine Vault in Speedway, Ind., less than a mile from the Brickyard.
The car number commemorates the 35 consecutive races that team owner A.J. Foyt made in the Indianapolis 500, one of numerous records that the first four-time Indy 500 winner holds.
“I never thought I’d make 35 races or last that long, but it’s great to have a car (to honor) 35 races,” Foyt said at the unveiling. “It brings back a lot of memories, but like I told ‘em, I’m too old to get back in it.”
The black and orange livery is also reminiscent of the paint schemes Foyt drove later in his career. For Kurt Westman, founder and CEO of Indiana-based Alfe Heat Treating, it provides an opportunity to honor a living legend in Foyt and extend a sponsor relationship in its sixth year.
“It’s kind of like getting to hang out with Babe Ruth,” Westman said. “Getting to know him and his stories over the years, it’s really been a legend.
“Our 35 car is dedicated to that,” Westman added. “We came up with that because that’s the number of A.J.’s consecutive starts and it also happens to be the year he was born (1935), so we really think it’s going to be a lucky number for us.”
Tagliani has no illusions heading into the Angie’s List Grand Prix. A seven-time Indy 500 starter, it will be his first race on the 2.439-mile road course and his first Indy car road course event anywhere since he finished 10th at Toronto in July 2013.
“It’s up to me to make best use of the practice that I have to get back in the game and, by (grand prix) race day, just do the best job that we can and use it to get ready for the 500,” the 42-year-old Canadian said. “I don’t think I could ask for a better position to be in because, looking at everything the team is doing in preparation for the 500, they’re doing everything right. They really want to do well.
“Plus, representing Alfe Heat Treating, a company that is from Fort Wayne, Ind., they will have a lot of fans here. And it’s going to be my eighth consecutive race at the 500. A.J. was in 35, so I can’t compare.”
Finally, Tagliani added with a laugh, “I think I just got the job because A.J. didn’t fit in the suit and I fit in the suit.”
Rossi faces tall task in visit to native California
Alexander Rossi, driver of the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, has faced some tall challenges during a racing career that has seen him climb the open-wheel ranks and spend two years in Formula One before joining the Verizon IndyCar Series this year.
But the California native may have literally been facing the tallest task ever when he looked at a 39-foot, 6-inch indoor climbing wall in front of him Tuesday at Sacramento State University. As with facing a challenge on track, however, Rossi met it head on and with enthusiasm, with the help of climbing coordinator Kenny Williams.
“This was the first time I’d climbed a rock wall in probably 12 years. It was great and fun to learn something new,” said Rossi. “Much like racing, the confidence you have directly relates to the result you get in the end.”
It also gave Rossi a chance to return to his California racing roots. Along with the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series, Rossi will compete in the 2016 season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway from Sept. 16-18.
“My very first competitive karting championship was at Sonoma,” Rossi said. “It was my first foray into the whole sport and I loved it. Finally, when I was 13, I did a three-day skills course and that was the first time I got in a formula car.
“To be able to come back to Sonoma 11 years later in an Indy car is pretty spectacular.”
Pigot’s opportunity for first pitch at Wrigley Field washed out
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Spencer Pigot was ready to live out a dream Monday night when he headed to Wrigley Field in Chicago, complete with the Borg-Warner Trophy in tow.
Pigot was slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs-San Diego Padres game and later lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. But Mother Nature had other ideas and the game was rained out.
“It was really fun traveling with the Borg and getting to see Wrigley Field up close,” Pigot said. “I was pretty excited to throw the first pitch, so hopefully we can come back when there’s some better weather.”
Pigot, who will drive in both the Angie’s List Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was able to meet and talk baseball and racing with retired Cubs great Ryne Sandberg before the game was called.