IndyCar’s Texas formula safer, but slightly overdone from 2012

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IndyCar had to make adjustments to the style of racing seen at 1.5-mile ovals going into 2012 after the tragic accident that claimed Dan Wheldon’s life at Las Vegas in 2011. The new Dallara DW12 was meant to help the safety aspect, and at Texas a year ago, coupled with tweaks made by Firestone to give a tire that went off quicker and series vp of technology Will Phillips, it worked largely to perfection.

What also helped that race was the finish, when you had two unexpected drivers in contention for the win. Graham Rahal hadn’t won since 2008, and Justin Wilson had never won on an oval. So when Rahal walled it off Turn 4 with a couple laps to go and Wilson scythed past to take the win for Dale Coyne Racing, it helped elevate the race to another level.

Further adjustments were made to the cars this year, but the confusion of available information made it difficult to decipher exactly what tweaks had been made. Firestone brought a new tire that featured a slightly softer body construction and tread compound on the left-side tires to increase grip and a slightly harder right-side tread compound to add durability.

Wilson had said in a teleconference earlier in the week that IndyCar had taken off 300 pounds of downforce, but it was later clarified to IndyCar PR by Phillips that IndyCar had not done so. Phillips related to IndyCar PR that the downforce level was similar but they had taken away some drag to increase speeds. Indeed the pole speed climbed several mph from 2012 (215.691 to 219.182).

What wound up happening on Saturday night was that finding the balance was the key to success, and only race winner Helio Castroneves and Team Penske found the maximum. Cars came and went depending on how their cars held up when the tires fell off, and that could have been anywhere from five to seven laps into a stint. The lap speeds started in the 208-213 mph range, but dropped into the 200-205 range after the tires were gone, where they stayed over the rest of the stint.

The other ace up Castroneves’ sleeve was that he only made three pit stops, when four or even five for others was the norm. The combination of less time spent on pit road, with his ability to have a balanced car that could run both high and low lines at Texas, made for an all-but-unbeatable package – particularly when the sun went down.

IndyCar has almost backed itself into a corner with the way its product has evolved in the last 15 months. The expectation has been for every race to match the intensity and action of a road or street course race, or the constant passing lap-after-lap as seen at Indianapolis.

What Texas was, was a clean, safe 228 laps where not a single accident occurred other than Oriol Servia’s spin, and drivers drove their hearts out to hang on to ill-handling race cars. That takes mad levels of talent. It was not a pack race, as Texas itself has not been in several years.

It was not a thriller, especially compared to the other seven races this season, and the drama that was still happening could have been presented better.

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.