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Zanardi raced at a time of strife between the CART and IndyCar series, and CART teams did not participate in the Indy 500 until 2000 when Ganassi took a two-car effort to Indianapolis and won with Montoya. But Zanardi had moved on to Formula One in 1999 and never got his shot to run Indy. His only lap ever was as a tourist and he was mistaken back then for two-time winner Arie Luyendyk on the ride.

“I paid $1 and had the bus ride with all the tourists,” Zanardi said. “A race fan just called me Arie Luyendyk. Chip as my witness.”

Ganassi looks back on his time with Zanardi as life-changing for the owner because Zanardi’s kindness and enthusiasm was infectious during a tough time for open-wheel racing.

“You see a guy that transcends all the issues that were of the day when we were racing in the mid to late `90s,” Ganassi said. “There was a lot of political upheaval. It’s just a breath of fresh air to see someone who transcends all of that and is about racing. That’s what you see here today. That’s why he brings out people like he does.”

But Ganassi also noted that it made no difference Friday that Zanardi was on the CART side, pointing out the crowd that came to see the popular driver get his car. On hand were many of Zanardi’s former crew members, as well as Vasser and Tony Kanaan, who broke away from preparations for the final practice to attend.

“It’s nice he can come back and have the reception he had and be welcomed with open arms,” Ganassi said. “That’s the one thing about this place. Everybody who’s ever been here in whatever capacity is welcomed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with open arms.”