The important insights: Schmidt’s French drivers on Sonoma’s wines

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By this point in the IndyCar season, teams need to get creative when it comes to thinking of new story angles or leads for advance press releases. Sam Schmidt’s team – the Schmidt Hamilton HP entry for Simon Pagenaud and Schmidt Peterson entry for rookie Tristan Vautier – took full advantage of the fact they employ two Frenchmen and inquired about their wine preferences.

This is Sonoma, American Wine Country, after all.

For Pagenaud, Napa Valley wines compare favorably to French wines, even if they represent a night-and-day difference.

“I always have good wine, no matter where I am,” Pagenaud said. “France is famous for wine, but I don’t think it’s better one place or another. Because of the temperature, sun and rain here in Sonoma the wine is very colorful and rich in terms of taste. It’s much fruitier than what we have in France. They’re actually very different but both good.”

Vautier, who’s only 24, is at least of age but said the task at hand over the weekend trumps wine tasting.

“Driving on a race weekend and wine tasting don’t really fit together, and we’re flying home right after the race Sunday night,” Vautier said. “I can’t offer much wine insight but I hope all of our fans and sponsors get to enjoy themselves!”

Both are a big fan of the Sonoma circuit, with its elevation changes and fast rhythm. Pagenaud finished second last time out at Mid-Ohio and enters the race fifth in points, while Vautier, the lone full-time rookie in the championship, sits 20th with his last top-10 finish at Barber in April. Vautier made the Firestone Fast Six in his first two starts of the year.

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.