COTA weekend thoughts and observations: IMSA

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Thoughts and observations from the first half of the sports car doubleheader weekend at Circuit of the Americas, for the Lone Star Le Mans round of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Additional thoughts on the FIA WEC will follow later today.

TUDOR CHAMPIONSHIP/CONTINENTAL TIRE SPORTSCAR CHALLENGE

  • Solid showing for IMSA content. Both the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races were excellent showcases of driver talent, and tremendously entertaining to boot. The light to slightly heavier rain that fell during Friday’s CTSC event produced a showcase for, ironically, Continental’s dry weather slicks – which still handled supremely well on the damp but not soaked track. Five of the six CTSC podium finishers made it home on slicks; GS winners Fall-Line Motorsports seized the moment on wets as John Edwards hunted down the fellow BMW M3 of Tom Kimber-Smith. In Saturday’s TUDOR race, the action for the overall win was intense and well balanced between the debuting Ligier JS P2 Honda of Alex Brundle and Gustavo Yacaman and the eventual race-winning Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. You can say, yes, the DP won, but the P2 car was the class of the field this weekend. It was about as fair a fight as could be had given the respective car disparities, and save for Yacaman getting spun early in the race the Ligier could well have had a debut victory.
  • Rapid response. Kudos must go to IMSA for an immediate yellow flag call and the track safety team for their quick and rapid response following a savage first lap accident in the CTSC race, when Tim Bell’s No. 28 Nissan 370Z had a reported ABS issue that left him without brakes that sent him off course at Turn 12, through the gravel trap and smacked the barriers very hard. Bell was OK, avoided hitting other cars and slid in sideways with the passenger’s side door, making the most of what could be salvaged following an impact reportedly measured at more than 140mph. Said Ryan Eversley, ST winner (with Kyle Gimple), “Before the car came to the stop, they’d already called a full-course yellow, so the workers could get there very quickly. We scanned the radio and as the car was coming to a rest, it was already full-course. That’s a huge testament to IMSA, everybody that’s in Race Control considering it could have been an emergency situation. I don’t think getting there any faster was possible.”
  • Texas Justice. New IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield wasted no time making his impression felt on the TUDOR Championship in his first race back in sports cars after a three-year sojourn to IndyCar. Barfield handed out four drive-through penalties for contact. In each case, for penalties applied to Cars 90 (P), 910 (GTLM), 54 (PC) and 23 (GTD) (one car from each class), the penalty was issued swiftly and decisively. That’s not to say there wasn’t controversy, but it wasn’t of a Sebring or Daytona-level magnitude. The two moments that did not draw a penalty – contact at the start into Turn 1 between the No. 42 Ligier of Yacaman and Ricky Taylor’s No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette, and later contact between the No. 81 GB Autosport Porsche and No. 300 Turner BMW in GTD – were still controversial to those respective teams that felt they’d been “hard done.”
  • Clean and green. In the last 30 minutes, there were several instances of cars off course where the potential for a yellow flag existed. However, Race Control did not pull the trigger on the yellow in this instance, and let the race play out. It was refreshing to see the lead battle climax as Brundle and Joao Barbosa hunted down Pruett, albeit to no avail for either of them.
  • No luck for Team Seattle or GB Autosport in GTD. A dominant drive from Mario Farnbacher and Ian James in the No. 23 Team Seattle/AJR Porsche 911 GT America went begging in the final hour as James contacted Gunnar Jeannette’s No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports PC car at Turn 12 due to a brake issue; the impact punctured James’ radiator. Meanwhile the GB car, driven by Damien Faulkner and Ben Barker, was on pace for at least a podium before the contact with the Turner BMW, and fell to an unrepresentative ninth in GTD.

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.