Mazda Road to Indy 2013 Season Review

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We’ve done some fairly extensive reviews on the three major series, NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar, we cover here on MotorSportsTalk. Over the next couple weeks we’ll hit the rest in brief fashion to put a period on 2013 and look ahead to 2014.

Here’s a brief recap of the three Mazda Road to Indy series, which make up the ladder system leading into the IndyCar Series:

FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS

An 18-year-old rookie, Sage Karam, extended Sam Schmidt’s streak of consecutive championships to four in a row after turning a last-minute signing into a title-winning season. Presumptive preseason title favorite and series sophomore Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) won two of the first three races to open the campaign, before he and Karam both got beat at the series’ marquee event in Indianapolis. There, Peter Dempsey passed those two and Gabby Chaves in a four-wide finish that was arguably the best finish of the year in the racing world in 2013 to capture the Firestone Freedom 100.

Karam meanwhile, grabbed his first two series wins on the ovals in Milwaukee and Iowa, before Munoz returned to the top spot at Pocono. When the series returned to road and street courses, Jack Hawksworth re-asserted his authority with wins in Toronto and Baltimore, sandwiching Chaves’ first and only win at Mid-Ohio. Karam took a decisive win on an odd weekend in Houston and coupled with Munoz and Hawksworth losing points, Karam fought Chaves for the title in Fontana. Although Munoz edged Chaves there in the season finale, Karam’s tenacious start to climb from ninth to fourth in the opening laps was enough to secure the crown.

At the moment, the high school student is working to compile the budget needed to advance into IndyCar in 2014. Munoz already has a confirmed IndyCar seat with Andretti, while Hawksworth has tested twice (RLL, Coyne). Off track, the series was purchased from IndyCar by Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions, and the organization has already announced a new chassis for 2015 and gained Cooper Tire as both a new tire partner and presenting sponsor. Despite a rough car count in 2013, things are actually looking up for Lights heading into the future.

PRO MAZDA

There were basically two classes in the Pro Mazda Championship in 2013: Matthew “Matty” Brabham, and everyone else. The 2012 USF2000 champion advanced a step on the ladder and put in an authoritative, dominant season in winning a record 13 of 16 races for Andretti Autosport – easily enough to win the title. Brabham will move up to Indy Lights in 2014 with Andretti and already has tested twice.

Series sophomore Diego Ferreira and fellow USF2000 grads Shelby Blackstock and Spencer Pigot, both rookies, grabbed the three other race wins and were more or less fighting for second on a regular basis. Few others stood out.

The Andersen group had taken over operations of Pro Mazda, renamed from Star Mazda, late in the winter with Cooper Tire replacing Goodyear as tire partner and presenting sponsor. Car counts ranged from 10-16 and rose toward the higher end of that number at year’s end, with an eye to going north of 20 in 2014.

USF2000

For another season, the USF2000 National Championship boiled down to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates. Brabham and Pigot had engaged in a fight for the 2012 crown and series sophomores Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico were the 2013 protagonists. Hargrove prevailed despite a 6-4 win deficit to Alberico; the Canadian’s luck was simply better as Alberico had several races where he didn’t survive past the first lap or two. Still, both have already been confirmed to jump to Pro Mazda in 2014 with the same team.

Danilo Estrela and Garett Grist added a win apiece, while French F4 star Alexandre Baron turned up seemingly out of nowhere the last two race weekends and winning two of the four races contested in Monterey and Houston. More than a dozen drivers scored podium finishes in the field that often topped 30 cars. Car counts should remain strong in 2014 for yet another Andersen-run series.

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.