Mario Andretti is one of the most recognizable names in motorsports. He has scored victories in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship (WSC), NASCAR, and more. At the age of 77, it would appear his competitive racing days are behind him. That is, until this past Saturday.
Mario Andretti took part in a one-on-one race against Sam Schmidt in Indianapolis this past weekend. Schmidt is a successful IndyCar driver that had his own career cut short in 2000 after an accident rendered him a quadriplegic.
Schmidt’s driverless comeback
Sam Schmidt made headlines when he received the first autonomous vehicle restricted driver’s license to be issued in the United States. His semi-autonomous car has also broken speed records on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. All after his unfortunate accident.
Schmidt’s accident would have ended the career of any driver, but not him. He now owns a team and drives at breakneck speeds in a modified Corvette Z06 that enables him to control the vehicle without his arms or legs. He’s still in full control, but the semi-autonomous vehicle sports some impressive technology that enables him to control his semi-autonomous motorcar (SAM) using subtle movements of his head.
After achieving success on paper, Schmidt wanted to get back into racing. What better opponent to take on the first semi-autonomous racer than a legend of the track in Andretti.
The battle versus Andretti
Two semi-autonomous cars traveling at speeds that exceeded 130 mph. wowed fans in Indianapolis. This friendly exhibition gave viewers the opportunity to donate to Schmidt’s nonprofit, Conquer Paralysis Now.
The race proved no less competitive than the ones that frequently take place in Indianapolis. There was drama, high-speed shenanigans, burnouts and donuts, and a final pull away on the home stretch.
Schmidt said in a statement: “I never had a chance to race against Mario during my driving career. He is a true legend that is world renowned and I appreciate his willingness to participate and showcase the next evolution of this technology.”
“This is awesome,” Andretti told IndyCar.com. “It’s a great opportunity to see what (the project) is all about. I feel like I’m really, really going to be struggling. I just asked for 70 more horsepower and they haven’t said anything.
As for the outcome of the race…
Andretti may have crossed the finish line first, but Schmidt leaves the experience no less victorious.
“It was the most normal I’ve felt in 17 years,” Schmidt said.