Andretti Autosport

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Veach, Andretti, Group One Thousand One able to build for future

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Rare are the words “American,” “young driver,” “multi-year” and “IndyCar” assembled within a sentence in modern day Verizon IndyCar Series racing.

But for young American driver Zach Veach, he’s got a multi-year IndyCar contract at his disposal thanks to Group One Thousand One at Andretti Autosport, and with it, an opportunity to build, grow and develop over that three-year time period through 2020.

It’s hard to believe Veach, the Stockdale, Ohio native, is only 22 considering his history in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires between 2010 and 2016, competing every year save for one (2015) due to injury and a lack of budget.

But throughout that period he gradually improved year-by-year, first in USF2000, then in Pro Mazda and finally in Indy Lights. Over his three years and with two different cars in Indy Lights, Veach grew into a race winner and bulked up from his already slender frame.

Veach is also the first driver in MRTI history to have been with the same team in all three levels, and graduate into IndyCar. He detoured to Belardi Auto Racing in 2016 but otherwise, was part of Andretti Autosport’s lineup from 2010 to 2014, and will now come back “home” for 2018 in IndyCar.

Veach and Michael Andretti before Star Mazda debut, Sonoma, 2011. Photo: IndyCar

“I think he was 14 or 15 when we met the first time… and he looked like he was 10. Now he’s 22, and looks like he’s 15!” Michael Andretti laughed.

“But he’s always impressed me. OK, he’d come out of the box not bad. But the next race, he got better, and you could see it. It wasn’t by mistake. You’d see how he’d work, take the information, study it for hours, and then come back so much more prepared the next day.

“I gotta say, I don’t think there’s as many drivers I’ve known outside the car who’ve worked that hard to make themselves better, and he did that all the way up the ladder system. There’s a lot of confidence in big cars, and now he’ll have more tools and will use them to his advantage. So he might start here, qualify top-18, then it’ll start to go up, up, then qualify top-10 by the end of the year and I believe the next year he’ll be more of a contender. That’s how I envision it.”

Setting reasonable and realistic expectations will be key for Veach, who should look at drivers like Josef Newgarden or Charlie Kimball for inspiration.

Newgarden’s first year with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing was littered with rookie errors, not a single top-10 finish, and ending 23rd in the championship. But knowing he had two more years to build off of, Newgarden was a podium finisher each of the next two years and had leapt 10 spots in the standings. By his fourth year and his second contract in 2015, he was a race winner.

Kimball was the same way with Chip Ganassi Racing. Barely in the top-20 in points his first year with only a couple top-10s, he ascended to podiums in year two as well, and scored his first race win in year three – when he also cracked the top-10 in points.

Given Veach’s years of preparing for this moment, he’s happy to have gotten to IndyCar now, rather than rushing it years earlier.

“I was one of those kids who thought he would be in IndyCar at 18. That’s so dumb! Looking back, I’m so glad that’s not how it happened,” Veach told NBC Sports.

“It’s hard to be patient when you’re young. I know I’m saying that at age 22, but at 15 or 16, all you care about is getting to IndyCar.

“Luckily, life forced me to be patient in some things. I would much rather have this deal at age 23 than at 18, because now I feel I can deliver what these people have put on my shoulders.”

Veach, Towriss and Andretti. Photo: IndyCar

The key person to have come through with the deal is Dan Towriss, CEO, Group One Thousand One. Veach, his pastor and Towriss all connected in the run-up to the Indianapolis 500, with Veach’s program for that race announced at Long Beach with A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Towriss explained first off that Group One Thousand One is a separate insurance company from Guggenheim Life, which was the presenting sponsor of Veach’s No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet in Indianapolis.

“Group One Thousand One is a group of insurance companies based in Indianapolis, and again, we’re growing our business, and we’re excited to be associated with Andretti and with Zach in this newest venture of ours,” Towriss explained.

“His story is one of perseverance and continuing to work hard. It resonates with us very well; helping people help themselves, and so we will help him continue on that journey. During May, we noted the way he was able to persevere, and work with his engineers when things weren’t able to work.”

Veach at Indy 500 this year. Photo: IndyCar

Veach is one of the smallest drivers in the series, at 5 and a half feet and hovering around 130 pounds. But outside the cockpit he’s developed a love of mountain climbing, and has been able to scale several cliffs over the last couple years.

His upper body strength is something he’s focused on building and he has come a long way from his early years in the MRTI. Manhandling an IndyCar is difficult, particularly as they don’t have power steering, but it’s something Veach has been working on.

“I think the first couple of tests will be hard, but they’ll be hard for everyone after the three-month offseason,” he said. “But we’re already 10 pounds heavier than we were at the Indy 500 and I’m proud to say there’s not a lot of fat!

“We’ve been busting our butts at St. Vincent’s to get stronger. Our numbers to now from where we started are night and day. We’ll keep working hard and as we get closer to the season, we’ll shift to more cardiovascular work. I’m at 128, 130 pounds now and I’d like to be at 135 when the season starts. I think it’s well within reach.”

Veach described the challenge of advancing up the ladder despite not winning a single Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for winning any of the three rungs on the ladder.

Veach (12) with longtime friend Gabby Chaves (7) in 2013 Freedom 100. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s not something I’m proud of. But one thing I am very proud of is that I’ve been very honest,” he said. “I had some success in USF2000, it was hit and miss in Pro Mazda, and in Indy Lights, I really came into my own. I proved to people that I could run up front and win races.

“What got me there was having that work ethic, trying to learn as much as I could from teammates who were quick and put that to use. Working with drivers like Felix Rosenqvist really helped. He showed me just how deep a car can go into the braking zone, with all that Formula 3 experience!

“He’s such a good driver and I hope to see him over here. He’s one of my closest friends and I don’t know anyone who deserves an IndyCar ride more than he does.

“It was a completely different set of skills and I think that’s why we didn’t hit our stride until the last part of the year. We won Road America, but winning at Watkins Glen and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca showed me where I wanted to be all year.

“It wasn’t until then that the team and I felt comfortable with what we were doing. There was added pressure when I became the team leader but that’s when things started turning around because the setups went in the exact direction I wanted them to go. That’s when things really started to click.”

Veach with USF2000 veteran Ayla Agren and Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman at Sonoma. Photo: IndyCar

The final element of Veach’s perseverance was his continued presence at the races. He found a home as a regular analyst and occasional pit road reporter for the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network in 2015, and made regular appearances there in 2016 and 2017 as well. He also drove a two-seater for the Indy Racing Experience in the same time frame.

“I think it was extremely important just from the standpoint of showing people I wasn’t going to go away,” Veach said.

“I think I got a little criticism from others involved sometimes just saying, ‘Well, why are you there if you’re not doing anything and not driving?’ You have to stay relevant, and that’s just what we were trying to do. Luckily enough, IndyCar Radio gave me a great opportunity. It’s the first kind of real job I ever had with them.

“I owe them many thanks, and of course the Indy Racing Experience with the two-seater. Even though it’s a two-seater I still got to run at places I’ve never raced at before. So I’m going to a few new tracks next year. It’s not the same thing but at least I know which way to go. I think that’s going to help us be a little quicker.

“It’s just never giving up on the dream. It’s learning every day. It’s never taking no for an answer.”

Zach Veach confirmed with Andretti Autosport in fourth car

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Zach Veach, a young American driver, has been confirmed Wednesday as Andretti Autosport’s fourth driver for 2018 in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The partnership announcement about this year and likely beyond for Veach is slated for Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“We are excited to give Zach the opportunity to show what he can do at the highest level, and I’m looking forward to welcoming him home, so to speak,” said Michael Andretti, CEO, Andretti Autosport. “Zach started his INDYCAR career with us in USF2000 and has driven in every step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with Andretti Autosport. He’s a driver that has always impressed me. Zach works hard, and he takes something away from every time he’s in the car – he’s constantly improving. He’s put the effort in, found success at every level and now his dream has come full circle.”

The 22-year-old American driver made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut April 23, 2017, at Barber Motorsport Park and his Indy 500 debut at this year’s 101st Running.

“I’ve been thinking about this day since St. Petersburg in 2010 when I sat beside Michael Andretti announcing that I’d be competing in USF2000 for his team,” said Veach. “To be driving in the Verizon IndyCar series with them is a dream come true and I can’t wait to get started.”

This solidifies Andretti Autosport’s four-car full-season lineup in mid-September, as Veach will join an all-American quartet alongside long-term drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, and the recently re-signed Alexander Rossi.

Andretti told NBC Sports at Watkins Glen just before the Rossi signing came out that he was optimistic of having all four cars done by Sonoma. “At this moment we’re looking at four cars. We’re close on the one. I feel good that we’ll have something to announce at Sonoma,” he said then.

Rumors percolated over this summer that Veach, who was known for his marketing ability and work ethic to find sponsors in his early years in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, was working on a bigger sponsorship package to bring to an IndyCar team. Reports of his signing then came out on Monday.

Veach returns to Andretti Autosport, a team where he raced in all three rungs of the MRTI ladder, first in USF2000, then Pro Mazda, and then Indy Lights from 2010 through 2014. He won his first three races in Indy Lights with Andretti in 2014, when he finished a career-best third in points. Upon returning to Indy Lights after a year’s hiatus in 2016, Veach won three more races with Belardi Auto Racing in the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda and finished fourth in points.

As noted earlier, this year he made two IndyCar starts, first in an unexpected fill-in role for JR Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber Motorsports Park and then in this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil with A.J. Foyt Enterprises and in the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim entry. Veach overachieved in a weekend of steady improvement at Barber, while had to recover from a practice crash in Indianapolis the rest of that month, before retiring with electrical issues.

The team will again run a fifth car at next year’s Indianapolis 500. Michael Andretti had said several times that after giving up his seat for Fernando Alonso at this year’s ‘500 that an extra car would be earmarked for Stefan Wilson. Whether that would be the fifth car or a sixth car, as the sixth car was for Andretti in partnership with Michael Shank Racing, remains to be seen.

As for Veach, he enters into a great situation to make an immediate impression. Without question it’s a big opportunity for him, stepping into one of the established “big three” teams. He will have a lot to prove in a coveted seat, but that’s part of the appeal.

Andretti’s 200th, Newgarden’s 100th IndyCar starts set at Sonoma

Andretti (27) and Newgarden (2) have milestone starts this weekend. Photo: Getty Images
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Two American drivers who are only separated by three-plus years in age but 100 starts and six years of experience hit some important career milestones in the Verizon IndyCar Series 2017 season finale this weekend, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Marco Andretti will start his 200th race in a career that dates back to 2006 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when he’d only just turned 19 years old.

Meanwhile Josef Newgarden will start his 100th race in a career that also began at a young age, 21 years old, on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. in 2012.

Andretti is 30 and Newgarden 26 (turns 27 in December), and it’s easy to forget how young Andretti still is given this will be the end of his 12th season. At 26 though, Newgarden only seems to be entering the prime of his career, after overachieving with Sarah Fisher, Wink Hartman and Ed Carpenter in his first five years and now looking to secure his first career championship in his first year with Team Penske.

SONOMA, CA – AUGUST 27: Marco Andretti (C), driver of the #26 Andretti Green Racing NYSE Dallara Honda celebrates his first IndyCar race win with father Michael (L) and grandfather Mario (R) at the IRL IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma August 27, 2006 at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Of course at one point, Andretti was the hot young American prospect in IndyCar. He almost won the 2006 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie, losing right off the final turn of the final lap to Sam Hornish Jr., at age 19. He eventually did win his first race of his career at Sonoma Raceway later that season.

Andretti has always been solid and perhaps misunderstood; there’s a perception that he doesn’t really seem to care, but in actuality, he cares so much that he often presses or fails to deliver in crunch time. Qualifying poorly after practicing well has been his issue this year. His last name is both his greatest asset and his greatest liability; his results largely have not lived up to the hype or hope of being the next great Andretti, the third generation driver in the iconic family legacy.

All told, Andretti has two wins from his first 199 starts – his last came at Iowa in 2011 – with 18 other podium finishes, and his most recent of those came at Fontana in 2015, 37 races ago. Andretti finished between fifth and ninth in the points in eight of his first 10 seasons but slipped to 16th last year, and is only 13th this year heading into this weekend’s finale at Sonoma.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 19: Josef Newgarden the driver of the Sarah Fisher Hartman/Dollar General car prepares for his qualifying run for the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Newgarden’s ascendance was gradual in his first three years. A tough rookie season revealed a lot of promise but an equal high number of mistakes, and without a top-10 finish, he was only 23rd in points. Podiums followed each of the next two years along with improved qualifying pace, with 14th and 13th place finishes the correct step forward.

Once he finally won his first two races in 2015, Newgarden was on the doorstep of the ascendancy in IndyCar and banked his first top-10 points finish of seventh. He improved to fourth last year, and won widespread praise in the paddock for his quick recovery from a savage looking accident at Texas Motor Speedway that left him with a fractured right clavicle and fractured right hand. That led to his signing with Team Penske for this year, where he’s won a series-high four races and leads the points by three heading into the Sonoma finale. In his first 99 starts, Newgarden has seven wins, and 11 other podiums.

Both have now become part of the IndyCar fabric over their tenures. Andretti has done decently well at Sonoma in the past beyond his win with several other top-10 finishes. Newgarden will almost certainly need to improve upon his best Sonoma finish of sixth if he is to capture his first title.

Sato’s car turns black and white with Dickinson Fleet Services

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Takuma Sato’s expected final race as a member of the Andretti Autosport team will see his usual blue and white No. 26 Honda take on a welcome shade of black, yellow and white, owing to Dickinson Fleet Services moving into a primary sponsor role for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Dickinson announced a multi-year extension with the team as its Official Service Provider and Fleet Management Company. The full release with more details is below.

Indianapolis-based fleet maintenance and repair company, Dickinson Fleet Services has solidified a multi-year renewal with Andretti Autosport and will continue to build on the established relationship throughout the upcoming INDYCAR seasons. To kick off this expanded relationship, the No. 26 Honda of reigning Indianapolis 500 Champion Takuma Sato will carry black and yellow for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway Sunday.

Joining Michael Andretti’s armada of racing teams in May of 2016, Dickinson Fleet Services became the Official Service Provider and Fleet Management Company of Andretti Autosport. Providing preventative maintenance and ensuring that the team transporters arrive at racetracks safely, the relationship with Dickinson Fleet Services has proved essential for the success across the entire organization.

“When we travel to IndyCar races, we travel with 10 tractor-trailers every weekend. The fleet maintenance of our transporters is just as essential as the maintenance of our race cars,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “Dickinson Fleet Services has performed above and beyond and is a key part of keeping our team rolling. Not only are they professional and the best in the business when it comes to fleet maintenance, but they’re also just right down the road here in Indianapolis.”

“Andretti Autosport has the highest expectations for performance, safety and winning,” said Ted Coltrain, Executive Officer, Dickinson Fleet Services. “We pride ourselves on providing maintenance excellence and safety at every level of our service. The entire team at Dickinson Fleet Services is honored to be recognized by Andretti Autosport as a vital partner in their success both on and off the track. We look forward to being part of Andretti Autosport’s winning tradition for many years to come.”

Andretti Autosport breaks long drought on road/street courses

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Andretti Autosport’s struggles on road and street circuits over the last two years have been well documented.

In fact, the last time the team won on a permanent road course was back in April of 2014, when Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Barber Motorsports Park, with Marco Andretti finishing second in what was a 1-2 for the team. Carlos Munoz then delivered the team’s most recent win on a street course a year later, in a rain-shortened Detroit race one, leading Andretti in a 1-2 finish there.

However, their only wins since then have come at the Indianapolis 500 (Alexander Rossi in 2016, and Takuma Sato in 2017), with road and street circuits being especially problematic for the Michael Andretti-led squad.

For instance, at last year’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, all four cars qualified 15th or worse – Rossi was 15th, Munoz was 16th, Andretti 18th, and Hunter-Reay 19th – with Rossi the only one to finish inside the top ten in eight.

Owing to the offseason personnel adjustments that have seen the team make strides in their setups, plus a good test at Watkins Glen several weeks ago, this weekend was a far different story.

Rossi was fast all weekend, securing the pole on Saturday and overcoming a fuel issue to lead the most laps and win on Sunday, while Hunter-Reay ran solidly all race long to finish third.

Even though Marco Andretti (16th) and Takuma Sato (19th) languished at the bottom of the order, the results for Rossi and Hunter-Reay are the team’s best on a road course since Hunter-Reay’s aforementioned Barber triumph.

The turnaround is quite noteworthy, as Hunter-Reay discussed afterward.

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third at Watkins Glen, leading four laps in the process. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s nice to see the turnaround the team has had. Last year as a team here, we all qualified (15th) or worse. We were the worst team in the paddock last year. Heck of a turnaround. Great job on that. Happy for the (No. 98) team. Alex did a great job,” Hunter-Reay said of the performance.

This also serves as a shot of momentum for the team ahead of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in two weeks, with Sonoma Raceway being one of the team’s better tracks, as Rossi described.

Alexander Rossi celebrates with his team in Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. Photo: IndyCar

“We had a strong test there. We were very strong there last year. It’s probably one of our strongest tracks outside of Indianapolis,” Rossi asserted. “I have high expectations. We need to really make sure that, again, we tick all the boxes throughout the weekend. Hopefully we can climb a couple spots in the championship.”

However, for Hunter-Reay the victory does not relieve any pressure in any way, as he still does not have a road/street course win since that Barber victory, and has not won a race period since Pocono in 2015.

“(2014) since our last road course win, that’s too long. No pressure relief at all. Got to get on it,” Hunter-Reay finished.

With their results, Rossi moved up to sixth in the championship standings, with Hunter-Reay jumping up to ninth. Takuma Sato now sits ninth and Marco Andretti 13th respectively.

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