Digesting a busy day of IndyCar driver news: Business is business

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Today has been arguably the busiest day of Verizon IndyCar Series driver news this year, with three major updates coming out heading into both this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the upcoming month of May in Indianapolis.

We’ll start in chronological order, starting with this morning’s confirmation of Oriol Servia in a second Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the Indianapolis 500.

RLL has made a wise choice bringing back Servia – one of this generation’s more underrated drivers – alongside Graham Rahal. The two have past history both last year and in 2009, and Servia is also now reunited with some of the ex-Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing personnel they both worked with in ’09.

Servia’s a development ace, a consistent driver and someone who’s renowned for outperforming the machinery at his disposal. Considering RLL has been off to a strong start in 2015, the Servia addition makes sense on nearly every level.

Next up was the mid-morning shocker that Sebastian Saavedra would be joining Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, sharing the No. 8 Chevrolet with CGR development driver and 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam for the balance of the season.

Purely on merit, it’s a questionable move. Saavedra has a less than distinguished career record in IndyCar, as in 56 career starts from 2010 to 2014 he has not scored a single top-five, only three top-10s while failing to finish 20 starts.

Arguably his two most notable moments in IndyCar have been because of accidents – he made it into his first Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in 2010 from a hospital bed following an accident and other cars withdrawing their times. Meanwhile following a surprise pole at last year’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, his car was struck after failing to engage from the standing start, as part of a big crash.

The knock on Saavedra is his inconsistency. He has flashes of brilliance, but they’re rarely sustained.

On the whole, he’s a nice enough individual and he’s enjoyed the longtime personal and financial support of AFS’ Gary Peterson – the paddock is better for having both of them engaged in some capacity – but in a Ganassi-prepared car, he has his best chance to perform and zero excuses if he doesn’t.

On a positive note, this keeps CGR at a four-car lineup through the remainder of the season, after it had been in doubt for much of the offseason. It keeps the crewmembers busy and at the track, and it keeps another car on the grid. As a Leaders Circle entrant, the No. 8 car would need to run the full schedule to ensure full payments.

This also ensures Karam will have a chance to improve after two ragged races to open his 2015 campaign. Knowing you have more races is a built-in confidence booster, and even if this means Karam won’t have a full 16-race slate to go for rookie-of-the-year honors, he still has a better shot than he did 24 hours ago. Just look at the improvement Luca Filippi has made in two races knowing he has a full complement of road and street races, compared to his roller coaster starts in 2013 and 2014.

On the subject of four-car lineups though, it’s with a bit of sadness to write that Simona de Silvestro won’t be racing at Long Beach this weekend, a team spokesperson confirmed, after running the opening two rounds for Andretti Autosport in the team’s No. 25 Honda.

It’s not for a lack of effort on either the driver or team’s part.

Per multiple Andretti personnel, the team was working up until the moment the trucks were leaving for California to assemble a fourth car for de Silvestro, who is still part of the team’s long-term plans.

There’s a “near certainty” that de Silvestro will be in further races this year beyond the Indianapolis 500, her next scheduled race in the team’s No. 29 TE Connectivity-backed Honda.

Following a fourth place at NOLA Motorsports Park, de Silvestro currently sits sixth in points, best of Andretti Autosport’s four drivers. But the car is not a Leaders Circle entry, and unless it’s fully funded for that particular race, it won’t run.

Is it unfortunate? Yes. But, business is business, and ultimately, that’s what all of today’s three bits of IndyCar driver news have in common.

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.