49ers coach – and IndyCar team co-owner – Jim Harbaugh to drive Indy 500 pace car

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San Francisco 49ers head coach and Panther Racing co-owner Jim Harbaugh will drive the 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray pace car and lead the field of 33 to the green flag at Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

Harbaugh, who led the 49ers to last year’s NFC Championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII, is a founding partner for Panther, the two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champions and a perennial threat at the Brickyard with four runner-up finishes in the last five “500s.”

“As a longtime racing fan and someone who has always followed the Indianapolis 500, the honor to drive the Pace Car comes as a tremendous thrill,” Harbaugh said in a release from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Doing it in the all-new 2014 Corvette Stingray makes it even better. It’s an iconic car leading an iconic race.”

Harbaugh is a well-known figure in Indianapolis thanks to a memorable run in the mid-1990s as quarterback of the Colts. According to the team, he first met Panther managing partner John Barnes shortly after he signed with the Colts in 1994. When Panther started racing in 1997, Harbaugh joined in as a partner.

To this day, Panther has run the No. 4 as a nod to the jersey he wore for the Colts and for the majority of his playing career. The coach and the team maintain a close relationship; last year, Harbaugh hosted Barnes, Panther driver J.R. Hildebrand and soldiers from the California National Guard on a visit to the Niners’ practice facility, and at the IndyCar race in Sonoma, California, Hildebrand ran a 49ers-themed paint job on his No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet.

“It’s always great for us to see Jim when he comes back to Indy for the race, and I don’t know too many people who love the Indianapolis 500 more than Jim Harbaugh,” Barnes said in a Panther release. “We’re unbelievably proud of all the success that he’s had in his playing and coaching career, and driving the Chevy pace car this Sunday is just another well-deserved accomplishment that we all know he’ll enjoy.”

Watch Friday’s Indianapolis 500 Carb Day (11 a.m. ET) online and on your mobile device.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.