Chicane could be Houston’s “calamity corner” this weekend

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Starts and restarts for this weekend’s Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader (Sat., 3 p.m. ET and Sun., 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra) could wind up being particularly hairy – and perhaps costly to some team owners as well.

That’s because drivers will have to navigate a left-right chicane after coming off the dogleg frontstretch of the 1.7-mile MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway layout at Reliant Park. The chicane was part of the two Champ Car races held at this track in 2006 and 2007.

Sebastien Bourdais, who won both of those events and is coming off a podium run last month in Baltimore, believes that “it’s pretty evident” the chicane could have an impact on the proceedings this Saturday and Sunday.

“I wish we could have a very late start, blow through the chicane for the opening lap and let [the field] stretch out, but it’s part of the program,” Bourdais said following a media luncheon Friday afternoon at Houston’s Reliant Center. “It’s unfortunately the consequence of not having enough runoff at what should have been Turn 1 in the first place but it is what it is.

“We had the same problem in Champ Cars and it puts on a good show [for the fans]. For the drivers, it’s a critical point because you don’t want the race to end in Turn 1. It definitely holds a lot of potential for incidents.”

Simona de Silvestro, who raced in the 2007 Formula Atlantic race at Houston, said luck will play a bigger role in who survives the corner.

“It could be bad; we’ve had some chaotic races of late, and I think it could go more and more that way this weekend,” she said at the same event. “But we’ve got lucky so far. We’ve got through the accidents and moved forward.”

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.