Red Bull GRC: Ken Block, Joni Wiman now the ones to beat in title race

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Ken Block started his 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross season with a dramatic crash at Barbados that left his No. 43 Hoonigan Racing Division Ford wrong-side up.

Seven races later, the Gymkhana star is on top of the championship.

Last weekend’s doubleheader at the Port of Los Angeles had the potential to wreak havoc on the title race, and it did. The biggest beneficiary was Block, who collected a pair of podium finishes and now holds an 18-point lead over Joni Wiman with two races to go.

“The season did start off a bit rough, and it took a bit to recover from that,” Block said on Sunday after finishing second in the Race 2 final behind winner Rhys Millen. “From there, we just kind of put our head down and put as much work in as we could.

“It’s been a bit of luck, and coming from behind with hard work, that has gotten me five podiums in a row. I just wanted consistency, I wanted some good finishes, and it’s just kind of steamrolled into this lead.”

Block entered L.A. second in the championship, down 40 points to Nelson Piquet Jr. But the Brazilian failed to make Saturday’s Race 1 final and only finished ninth on Sunday.

Piquet’s nightmarish weekend in the City of Angels has knocked him down to fourth in the standings at 34 points behind Block – 10 points behind third-place man and Saturday winner Scott Speed.

Speed has won three races this season and Piquet had a streak of four straight podiums (Austin-Washington, DC-New York-Daytona), but both have also had stumbles that have knocked them out of the championship lead.

Block must try to avoid the same fate, with 2013 GRC Lites champion Wiman now serving as his closest pursuer.

“We’ve got two events left and really just have to focus on [Wiman], who’s being really consistent, and watching what he’s doing,” he said of the Finnish pilot.

“We’re trying to be near him or ahead of him, especially for the next event [at Seattle], to hopefully set up a bigger points lead going into the final event [at Las Vegas].”

Meanwhile, Wiman, the driver of the No. 31 Olsbergs MSE Ford, heads to Seattle on the heels of his own double-podium weekend in L.A.

He’s now ranked as high as he’s ever been in the top-tier Supercar class, and after what’s been a solid 2014 for him, he’s probably feeling like he’s playing with house money at this point.

“It’s so great to be here,” Wiman said this weekend. “To be honest, I didn’t expect to do this well my first year, but of course I’m happy.

“It’s everything for me to get a good start on the weekend, feel it out fast, and get happy with the car, and then it’s just rolling on.”

Throw in Speed and Piquet, who will be very desperate to make one last push for the title, and next weekend’s Round 9 is setting up to be quite a show.

Catch Red Bull Global Rallycross: Seattle this Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on your local NBC station and NBC Sports Live Extra.

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.