Sonoma race features slam dunk of celebrities in attendance

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SONOMA, Calif. – Two NBA All-Stars were among the impressive celebrity contingent attending the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, where the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship was decided today.

Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry accompanied his wife, Ayesha, who served as grand marshal for the race at Sonoma Raceway, located in the middle of California wine country. Also on hand was San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard. Together, Curry and Leonard make up two-fifths of the All-NBA First Team this past season.

Ayesha was in the spotlight at the race, giving the command for drivers to start their engines. Prior to that, the Currys each took a ride with the legendary Mario Andretti in the INDYCAR Experience two-seat Indy car and visited with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the Team Penske compound.

“That was unbelievable,” Steph Curry said of his ride around the undulating 2.385-mile permanent road course. “It was amazing, man, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, for sure!”

The 6-3 guard compared riding with Andretti to watching his basketball hero play the game, saying it “would be like Michael Jordan taking a jumper, the best ever to do it.” It also gave the unanimous NBA MVP this season a truer appreciation for the athleticism required to drive an Indy car at speeds exceeding 170 mph.

“Saying it is a workout is an understatement,” he said after the ride. “(It takes) a lot more confidence in your abilities than anything I’ve ever experienced. One mistake, obviously, and you’re in trouble. You’ve got to be locked in and focused the whole time. The first turn, I was nervous. It gave me a lot more comfort that Mario was there.”

Kawhi Leonard and Tony KanaanHis wife, meanwhile, was all smiles after her ride. “Awesome! Fast!” Ayesha exclaimed as she got out of the car. “It was thrilling, I had such a great time. It was crazy! It was so much fun. Right when I thought I was going to lose my life, that was the best part. … I’m just joking.

“A nice first race experience, that’s for sure.”

Leonard met Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan before the race and was Andretti’s passenger in the Honda Fastest Seat in Sports two-seater, pacing the field of 22 cars to start the 85-lap event. It was also Leonard’s first experience at a Verizon IndyCar Series race.

“I felt good out there with him,” Leonard said of Andretti. “I told him, ‘My insurance is high so make sure you drive great.’ You know, it was just an amazing experience and humbling to be in the same car as him. He is one of the best and that’s what you want to do. He just inspires me to even do better in my sport.”

“Chicago Fire” star Taylor Kinney, who plays the charismatic Kelly Severide on the show that premieres its fifth season Oct. 11 on NBC, was another recipient of an Andretti two-seater ride in the morning and ecstatic when he stepped out of the passenger seat.

Taylor Kinney“Legend! Legend!” Kinney exclaimed after his ride with Andretti. “You don’t expect the car to be able to hold the corner. Hats off to Mario and INDYCAR. That was epic! Wow, I’m still all juiced up! That’s a workout. What incredible athletes these guys must be to be able to do that. You’re working the entire time you’re in the car. It’s not like ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’”

Actor Nathan Kress, best known for his role as Freddie Benson in the Nickelodeon series “iCarly,” was at his second race this season, too. Kress and his wife, London, also attended the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, near her hometown, in June.

Other notables attending the Sonoma race weekend included: Mo Rocca, humorist and journalist for “CBS Sunday Morning” and “60 Minutes”; celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Tanya Holland; filmmaker Tory Belleci, best known for his work on “MythBusters”; and Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno, principal dancers in the San Francisco ballet.

Sharna Burgess, the professional dancer paired with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe on Season 23 of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” visited the track Friday for a two-seater ride from her partner.

Steph Curry and Mario Andretti

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