IndyCar: Sebastian Saavedra takes GP of Indy pole in bizarre session

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In one of the more bizarre qualifying Verizon IndyCar Series sessions in recent memory, Sebastian Saavedra has captured the pole position for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, as torrential rain, light rain and sun were all in play over the course of qualifying.

“I love the rain. It was crazy at first because we didn’t know what to expect from the track – if it was going to be wet, if it was going to be dry,” Saavedra said. “We were comfortable yesterday, as it got hotter, we just needed to work a little bit more – especially with the rain. We made a huge leap this morning and then the whole session was just weird. It started to rain and went from wet, to dry, to super dry, to super wet. I loved it.”

With Saavedra and Jack Hawksworth on the front row, this is the actuality of an IndyCar bizarro world – an IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, featuring two of the more unheralded drivers in the field posting the two fastest laps in a qualifying session that included everything but Noah shipping into the track with an ark and two of every animal.

This is nothing to take away from either driver, but it’s a stunning result.

Saavedra, in the No. 17 KV/AFS Racing Chevrolet, had never made a Firestone Fast Six previously and his best start on a road or street course was ninth, in each of the first two races last year. His best career start was sixth, at Milwaukee’s one-mile oval last year.

Hawksworth, meanwhile, has his second Firestone Fast Six appearance and a career best qualifying effort in the No. 98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda.

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s best time of 1:23.8480 was better than Saavedra’s 1:23.8822, but Hunter-Reay caused a red flag after an accident, losing control exiting Turn 14. He backed into the wall and as a result, lost his two fastest laps.

“We definitely gave that one away,” Hunter-Reay said. “Since we got here it’s been dry-wet-dry-wet. It was changing conditions and it was a lot of fun, but it ended the wrong way, so congrats to Saavedra – good job and good pace.”

He’ll start third, ahead of Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Scott Dixon.

Sebastien Bourdais was best of those knocked out in Q2, which from P8-12 included a trio of Indianapolis 500 winners in Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal.

Rahal only made it into Q2 following a penalty assessed to Mikhail Aleshin for qualifying interference, reportedly on Sebastien Bourdais. Aleshin had these two tweets following the penalty, one in English and one in his native Russian:

Loosely translated, the Russian tweet said he was penalized for blocking Bourdais although he claimed Bourdais was far behind and not on a flying lap. Feel free to put the text into your favorite translation service.

Of the dust-up, Aleshin’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Simon Pagenaud said, “What I can tell you is that he and Sebastien Bourdais are becoming best friends.”

Marco Andretti just missed out in Q1 and will start 13th. Others of note who failed to advance included Josef Newgarden, Justin Wilson, and Long Beach winner Mike Conway, who’s been struggling all weekend.

Qualifying times, and a video wrap-up of the session, are below.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS

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.