Vautier, Rahal, Newgarden top 3 in Baltimore second practice

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The second 45-minute IZOD IndyCar Series practice session for the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT (2 p.m. EST, Sunday, NBCSN) saw improved lap times and a Honda top-five sweep, led by Tristan Vautier. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie also led the first practice at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this year.

“I think it’s one of the rare street courses that’s this long and with this many corners,” Vautier said, praising the circuit. “Here you have everything with the chicanes, fast turns, 90-degree corner and hairpins. It’s very technical and requires a lot of commitment to get it all right. I feel it’s a complete street course, my favorite one.”

Vautier got down to a 1:19.4792 for his flier in the No. 55 Environmental Rail Solutions Honda, ahead of Graham Rahal in the newly reliveried No. 15 blu eCigs Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda. Rahal and new engineer Neil Fife are starting to gel, and the team did well unloading off the truck this weekend to begin straight on pace. Fife is based on Columbus while RLL’s IndyCar base is Indianapolis; Graham only sees his new engineer on the weekends.

“It’s a big improvement from where we’ve been; where we felt confident at any of our disciplines this year though, it’s been street courses,” he said. “There were improvements we made at Sonoma; you all can see it. You see where we were on road courses – we were terrible, the worst I’ve been in my career. Then we qualified eighth, right up front where we should be. We still need to keep improving and have quite a lot of work to do.”

Josef Newgarden clocked in third in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda. Newgarden is seeking a decent result in his first Baltimore IndyCar start.

“I’m so hot, it’s like driving in a sauna,” Newgarden told IMS Radio’s Nick Yeoman regarding the 89 degree ambient, 107 degree track temperatures and high humidity. “Yeah I’m trying to plow the car through there (the chicane). It’s one of the coolest things about this track. It’s a trick trying to nail it.”

Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five. Will Power, in sixth, was the last driver in the 1:19 range and first Chevrolet-powered car. Power ended the session with a quick nosing into the tire barrier at Turn 9, a corner that has Dr Pepper signage prominent both on corner entry and exit.

“On the last lap there in the afternoon session I just locked up the tires going into Turn 9 and fortunately there wasn’t much in the way of damage to the front wing,” Power said.

Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti rounded out the top 10.

Luca Filippi posted an impressive performance in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda in 11th, just ahead of the returning Oriol Servia in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet.

Stefan Wilson, IndyCar debutante, found two seconds from this morning but was still shotgun on the 24-car field at 1:23.6238 in the No. 18 Nirvana Tea Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

Points leader Helio Castroneves was 13th, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, also in the driver’s championship picture, 16th.

Several cars – James Hinchcliffe, Simona de Silvestro and Sebastian Saavedra notable among them – hit the chicane on the front straight pretty hard in the textbook definition of “crashing over the curbs.”

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.