Graham Rahal moving on from Barber disappointment as Month of May opens

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When considering practice times from the first day of testing the new superspeedway aero kits at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, feel free to disregard Graham Rahal’s.

The ninth-year driver’s fastest time over two sessions in his No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda was 40.5929, the 25th fastest overall among 28 cars.

But Rahal isn’t concerned. While the day was devoted to starting work with the aero kit, his Rahal Letterman Lanigan team was also finishing its use of some old equipment.

“I think our car was actually pretty quick, we just had an old, worn out engine,” Rahal told MotorSportsTalk in a phone interview. “We were trying to get it to the end of its mileage, to get it through and we did it.”

In the new aero kit, Rahal turned 77 laps around the 2.5-mile track where he finished dead last in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 due to electrical issues.

“It felt good and frankly, the nice thing is there was nothing that was too shocking about it,” Rahal said. “I was kind of worried about the first day of running it. I didn’t know what to think about it and frankly it ran really well. I was pleased with it for a first day.”

Once the series is past the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis this Saturday, Rahal’s team will move on to breaking in a new engine for the Indianapolis 500, where his best career finish is third in 2011.

“I think the biggest thing for us is going to be getting that new engine in there, seeing how it runs for us, seeing what kind of speed we can find I think,” Rahal said. “We’re a little bit unsure still…with the car. I don’t think anybody has a great idea of where these things are going to be, we only have one day under our belt, there’s going to be a lot to learn before we get too far down the road here.”

The test on Sunday was Rahal’s first time on a track since he came in second to Josef Newgarden in the Grand Prix of Alabama. Rahal led 17 laps in the race, but a late charge saw him come up 2.206 seconds short of the lead and a shot at his second career win in nine years.

But Rahal isn’t torturing himself by reliving the moment, which he admits is one of the top three of his career, grouped with his 2008 win at St. Petersburg and coming in second at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012 after hitting the wall with three laps to go.

“Maybe one of these days I’ll sit down and take a peek at it,” Rahal said. “I have to admit, I haven’t spent too much time focusing on it at this point.”

Rahal doesn’t believe he needed more than a lap to catch up to Newgarden, as he was gaining two to three seconds a lap after getting past Scott Dixon for second.

“The amount I was catching him was pretty extreme,” Rahal said. “Of course if I got up behind Josef, I think he would have got quicker than what he was. Getting to him and passing him are two different things, but obviously I had a pretty good car and I was able to work around everybody else.”

Rahal says he thought it would be his day for awhile, though he believes had he not received a controversial penalty for contact at St. Petersburg, the season opener would have been an even better chance for win No. 2.

“I was trying to tell myself, ‘Stop, just focus on the job,’ so then I quickly went back to that,” Rahal said. “It’s kind of a shame we came up short, because days like that are hard to come by where you’re so in control of everything. That’s the way these things go and we’ll be back to fight hard for the second win here soon.”

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.