Fresh engine update issued prior to IndyCar at Fontana, and it’s complicated

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INDYCAR has issued a fresh engine update in advance of this weekend’s season finale, the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

And fair warning in advance: you’ll need a spreadsheet to comprehend how this will all work as it pertains to the five-engine maximum each car is allotted for the season without penalty.

There are 16 of the 25 cars entered that are on their fifth and final allotted engine before exceeding the max.

Those are:

  • Andretti Autosport: Ryan Hunter Reay (No. 1), E.J. Viso (No. 5), Marco Andretti (No. 25), James Hinchcliffe (No. 27)
  • Panther Racing: Oriol Servia (No. 4)
  • Dragon Racing: Sebastian Saavedra (No. 6), Sebastien Bourdais (No. 7)
  • KV Racing Technology: Tony Kanaan (No. 11), Simona de Silvestro (No. 78)
  • Team Penske: Will Power (No. 12)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Justin Wilson (No. 19)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter (No.. 20)
  • Schmidt Peterson/Hamilton Motorsports: Tristan Vautier (No. 55), Simon Pagenaud (No. 77)
  • Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing: Charlie Kimball (No. 83)

Assuming none of those 16 would need to change engines prior to the start of the race Saturday night, you could figure those would be the top 16 starters in whatever order. Add a 17th to that list too, with Team Penske’s third car, AJ Allmendinger, on only its third engine as a part-time entrant.

However, Saavedra’s change to his fifth came before the fourth engine was mileaged out. That means the Dragon Racing driver will join these five other drivers with guaranteed 10-spot grid penalties looming after their qualifying efforts on Friday:

  • Team Penske: Helio Castroneves (No. 3, sixth engine)
  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon (No. 9, sixth)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Takuma Sato (No. 14, sixth)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal (No. 15, seventh)
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Josef Newgarden (No. 67, sixth)

The above five drivers are also ineligible to score manufacturer’s points because they are on their sixth or worse engine. Joining them in this category are the remaining runners we haven’t mentioned thus far:

  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Alex Tagliani (No. 10, eighth)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: James Jakes (No. 16, sixth)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Pippa Mann (No. 18, seventh)

This will basically mean two things. Any of the cars ineligible to score manufacturer points can’t have a win of theirs count toward the Manufacturer’s Championship.

Secondly, this is the single least important qualifying session of the season because you’re going to have a final starting grid drastically different than the qualifying times. A year ago, 14 of the 26 starters took grid penalties for engine changes (Castroneves, Power, Dixon, Rahal, Kimball, Sato, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay, Wilson, Newgarden, Pagenaud, de Silvestro, Tagliani and Wade Cunningham).

So long as the fastest qualifier is someone who doesn’t do an engine change and isn’t ineligible for manufacturer points, it’ll be perfectly understandable… mostly.

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.