James Hinchcliffe goes P1 in first IndyCar practice at Long Beach

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James Hinchcliffe is trying to put a tough season-opening weekend at St. Petersburg behind him, and he’s started strong so far by leading this afternoon’s opening practice for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Hinchcliffe, who also led Practice 1 at St. Pete before crashing in qualifying and suffering mechanical issues en route to a 19th place finish in the race, logged a lap of 1:09.8110 at 101.485 miles per hour in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Helio Castroneves, a past winner at Long Beach back in his CART days, was second-fastest in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:09.9905 (101.225 mph). He and Hinchcliffe were the only two drivers to break the 1 minute, 10 second mark.

Justin Wilson was third (1:10.0080/101.200 mph), followed by another former Long Beach winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, in fourth (1:10.0340/101.162 mph).

Josef Newgarden went P5 in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda (1:10.0648/101.118 mph) but also damaged his car after going into the tire barriers at Turn 8 midway through the session.

He had been the fastest driver in practice prior to the incident.

St. Pete winner and current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Will Power was sixth on the sheets (1:10.1677/100.970 mph). Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth was the fastest rookie, with his time of 1:10.1970 (100.927 mph) good enough for seventh; he also ran the most laps in the session with 21 circuits to his credit.

Other notables include defending Long Beach champion Takuma Sato in 12th (1:10.2518/100.849 mph) and Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Oriol Servia, who began his first race weekend of 2014 by logging the 15th-fastest lap (1:10.5054/100.486 mph) in the session.

The IndyCars will have another practice session later on at 5 p.m. ET.

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.