Alonso: Updates drawing McLaren closer to mid-pack

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Fernando Alonso’s hopes of scoring his first points since re-joining McLaren for the 2015 season took a boost during practice for the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday as the team finished on the fringes of the top ten.

Since switching to Honda power units for the 2015 season, McLaren has struggled to complete much extensive running due to teething problems with the new MP4-30 car.

From the two races so far in 2015, the team has suffered three retirements and recorded just one finish as Jenson Button finished as the last classified driver in Australia.

Coming to China for this weekend’s race, both Button and Alonso were upbeat about the progress being made by McLaren, and this was justified in FP2 at the Shanghai International Circuit as they finished P10 and P12 respectively.

“It’s been a very positive Friday for us,” Alonso said. “I enjoyed both sessions. We completed our aero programme during the morning, and then focused on set-up work this afternoon.

“All the updates we brought here seem to be working as we’d expected, and they’ve put us closer to the mid-pack. It’s very encouraging to see that we’re moving firmly in the right direction. It’s a question of time as to when we’ll become competitive.

“While it’s been great today to run in the middle of the pack – and I want to be able to maintain that sort of progress – we need to keep our feet on the ground. We saw in the first two races that the others tend to take a step forward in qualifying, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier urged caution upon seeing the team’s Friday results, but was pleased with the progress that has been made since the last race in Malaysia.

“While we won’t get carried away with seeing both cars finish this afternoon’s session in respectable positions, it’s always encouraging to see signs of positive progress,” Boullier said.

“As we witnessed in Malaysia a fortnight ago, we’re continuing intensively to develop and improve MP4-30, and today’s sessions proved to be no exception. Indeed, both Fernando and Jenson were reasonably happy with their cars’ balance, and our engineers will look to refine that tonight.

“Tomorrow, we’ll acquire a much clearer read of our rivals’ respective performance once we get into qualifying. But, for the moment, it’s nice to see that we’re continuing to take some good steps forward with both the chassis and the power unit.”

Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 3a ET on Saturday.

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.