MRTI: A showcase for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000 on IMS road course

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Perhaps overlooked in the run-up to the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis this weekend is that it’s also a showcase event for all three Mazda Road to Indy divisions, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

As in Barber, each series will have a pair of races. But unlike Barber, no series has two races in one day; they’ll all have one Friday and one Saturday race.

In Indy Lights, the field is down to 11 cars with the withdrawal of Italian Vittorio Ghirelli, who had driven the second Team Moore Racing entry. Ghirelli was initially planned to race the full season, but was not present for the series’ open test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval this past weekend – Jimmy Simpson, who drove the No. 22 in last year’s Freedom 100, filled in.

Up front the battle again is expected to rage between Zach Veach, points leader on 181, and Gabby Chaves, with 172 markers. The pair of split the four races thus far. Meanwhile it would not be a surprise to see Matthew Brabham or any of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports quartet break through and claim their first win in the series.

Pro Mazda has seen Spencer Pigot of Juncos Racing go 4-4 to open the season, although his teammate, Kyle Kaiser and the pair of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing drivers Neil Alberico and Scott Hargrove have shown promise as they seek to knock Pigot off the top step of the podium. A 20-car field will take the green flag for the two events; World Speed Motorsports adds a third car while JDC’s fourth, which had been driven by Italian Vicky Piria in the first two weekends, is not entered this one. Tough week for Italians in the ladder series…

With three wins from the first four USF2000 races, including a Saturday two-race sweep in Barber, Winterfest champion RC Enerson is poised to add to that this weekend. He’ll attempt to do so in a 23-car field that has its second significant driver change in as many races. Florian Latorre shifted from Belardi Auto Racing to Cape at Barber in a third car there; Jeroen Slaghekke now moves over to Belardi from Afterburner Autosport this weekend.

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.