Montoya: A faster re-acclimation to Indy 500 than expected

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It’s interesting that Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to the Indianapolis 500 hasn’t, yet, been a major story of the first week of practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ marquee race.

His teammates under the Team Penske umbrella have been. Will Power’s been quick, and also offered his thoughts on double points for the 500-mile races and additional points for qualifying. Helio Castroneves is rocking a throwback Pennzoil paint scheme and has also topped the time sheets; at the moment, his 227-plus mph lap from Thursday is the fastest of the week.

Yet Montoya, who is back at IMS going the normal oval direction for the Indianapolis 500 after spending time racing at IMS in either the Brickyard 400, U.S. Grand Prix or GRAND-AM Rolex Series race the last 14 years, was pleased and surprised with how quickly he got back up to speed here on the oval, in an IndyCar.

“I’ll tell you the truth, I was really surprised when I came on Sunday,” Montoya said during a Friday morning press conference. “I went out and I said, ‘I’m going to take my time. Full throttle, lifted on three and four, second lap, third lap, fourth lap, I’m good.’ It was nice.”

Through Thursday’s running, Montoya completed 279 laps and had the 11th best speed of 225.134 mph in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet for Penske Motorsports.

He’s already thrilled with how fast the entire Penske organization has got their heads wrapped around the setup on the cars.

“One of the cool things about being with Team Penske, they do such a good job with the cars,” he said. “The experience here is so good. They really know what they’re doing. It makes it so easy for us, it really does.

“I mean, when you’re trying, like yesterday we were starting to trim the car out in case it rained today, okay, I have a little bit of understeer, they change it.  They really know how much to change the car, to adjust the car.  It makes it fun.”

Montoya has a legitimate shot at being in the fastest nine qualifiers on Saturday, to then have a run for the pole on Sunday. But clearly he’s back, as he helps the team in search of Roger Penske’s 16th Indianapolis 500 victory, and first since 2009 (Castroneves).

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.