For Zach Veach, Milwaukee a valuable learning lesson

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Although Sage Karam won Saturday’s Firestone Indy Lights Series race at the Milwaukee Mile, his former teammate and budding rival Zach Veach had his breakout weekend for Andretti Autosport.

The driver of the No. 12 K12 entry (photo credit: IndyCar photo) started second and finished third, each the best result of his rookie season. However it could have been much more; Veach led the opening 56 circuits after passing Karam from the initial green flag.

Where Veach got into trouble was that he used up his tires too early in the 100-lap race. That made it difficult to get through traffic and cost him his lead he had built up of more than four seconds.

Key lessons learned then, for the Stockdale, Ohio native who was the first driver to test in all three divisions of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder (he and Karam have raced in all three: Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000).

“I got quoted by Sage saying I jumped the start, but we were just side-by-side,” Veach explained in an interview Wednesday. “I think he was a little asleep, and waited a little too long. They threw the green so it was an ven playing field.

“Definitely we pushed a little hard early. They key was to get the lead right on the start and carry it a few laps. But as a rookie, I over pushed a bit, then I started having some tire trouble.

“When it came to lapped traffic, we pushed so hard at the beginning that we didn’t quite have the tire to make an easy pass,” he added. “It’s a handful at Milwaukee without the banking.”

Both drivers had raced at Milwaukee before in 2011 (Veach in USF2000, Karam in Pro Mazda). Veach took his 2013 experience as his initial one because the cars are so different; the Lights car is much heavier with the “musclely” V8 block in the back, while the USF2000 car has much less downforce and skinnier tires.

Veach also took the time to praise his sophomore teammate Carlos Munoz, who returned to focus solely on Lights at Milwaukee after his incredible month of May and runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500.

“Honestly, this is why I love Carlos as much as I do. Right after we got off the track, now it’s time to focus back on Lights,” Veach said of Munoz. “He’s got a high maturity level. I came into this situation, being a little underprepared for the off-track things and studying data.

“Now I’m seeing how much really goes into it. It’s allowed me to revamp my protocol when it comes to working at the track. In Lights, you’re studying data, video, engineering setups. It’s a whole lot more work in a way, the Mazda Road to Indy is like high school, each level has more responsibility, and Carlos has been a big help on that.”

F1 2017 driver review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Renault
Car No.: 27
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 43
Championship Position: 10th

Expectations were hard to peg for Renault heading into its second full season back in F1 with a factory team, but Nico Hulkenberg was surely expected to be the man spearheading its charge.

With teammate Jolyon Palmer severely underperforming, Hulkenberg did exactly that, bringing home all but 14 of the team’s points in the final standings. However, consistency was never something he truly found.

Many of Renault’s issues were down to reliability issues, sidelining Hulkenberg for six races – four coming in a five-race stint from Singapore to Mexico – yet he only scored points in consecutive races on three occasions.

When Hulkenberg and Renault were on form, they proved to be a potent combination, often topping the midfield fight and even looking faster than Force India come the end of the season. His run to sixth at the final race in Abu Dhabi was crucial for the constructors’ championship as Renault jumped Toro Rosso, securing an extra slice of prize money in the process.

But for a driver who was so often tipped as being a future star in F1, Hulkenberg still has a lot to prove. Renault is set to offer a good platform for the German moving forward with factory support, yet if he cannot beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. through 2018, concerns will surely be raised.

Season High: Charging to sixth in Abu Dhabi despite a penalty.

Season Low: A tough run to 16th in Malaysia.