Ganassi’s young guns shined at 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona

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One of the question marks in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona was how Chip Ganassi’s three lesser-experienced drivers in the endurance race would handle having a greater responsibility.

But it’s fair to say that each of Kyle Larson, Sage Karam and Charlie Kimball passed that test with flying colors, all of whom were making their second Rolex 24 starts.

Karam and Larson in particular stood out in the pair of Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Fords, with Karam in the full-season No. 01 and Larson part of the eventual race-winning No. 02 car. Each drove about seven to eight hours, far more than in their debut year a year ago.

Karam, the 19-year-old IndyCar full-season hopeful for CGR, felt this was a great audition to build on what he showed last year – particularly at Sebring.

“Each time I’ve been in the car has been good for improvements in my career,” Karam told MotorSportsTalk. “I think the first stint was huge with that restart, going for the lead and then pulling a pretty big margin… good thing was it was on TV, so that helps out.

“When you’re in the middle of the night, you just bring it home in one piece. This time, we took it to the champions of this race last year in Action Express. We had a great battle with the Wayne Taylor car. But it’s a shame how it ended for us with the slipping clutch.”

Meanwhile Larson, the 22-year-old wheelman who’s seemingly won in everything he’s touched, was skeptical of returning for a second year at the Rolex 24 and thought of making excuses to get out of it.

“I felt and knew I did a really bad job last year… well, I thought I did a really bad job,” Larson said. “All year I was trying to figure out an excuse to not run this race. It’s pretty amazing that I felt pressured into running this race and now I’m a winner of this event.”

CGR managing director Mike Hull spoke highly of both drivers in the post-race press conference, particularly Larson given his pre-race trepidation.

“After he raced last year, he was actually very intimidated by the process of driving road racing in a big hybrid sports car, and I had heard that he didn’t want to do the race this year,” Hull said. “I thought, well, that was odd. He’s a racing guy.

“So I called him on the phone, and I said, you’re going to drive with us. He said, well, I don’t know if I want to. Those other guys are so good.

“The time investment that we made together last year at the Daytona 24-hour race is going to pay big dividends for all of us, including you, this year, and I’m glad it did for him because he represents all of us.”

Karam and Ganassi have a natural tie-in – both are Pennsylvania natives – while Larson speaks to the North Carolina front of the CGR organization beyond its Pennsylvania roots and also its Indianapolis base.

And both are also a major part of CGR’s future, beyond team veterans Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Jamie McMurray on the IndyCar/NASCAR sides and Scott Pruett and Joey Hand on the sports car side.

“We had eight drivers drive for us today, not four… if anybody digs into our culture at all they’ll find out that’s who we are. We’re all about the people that work for us.”

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.