IndyCar: Wilson leads Andretti contingent on a rough qualifying day for Honda

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INDIANAPOLIS – The good news first: Justin Wilson is back in an IndyCar, on the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis race weekend, with one of the series’ marquee teams in Andretti Autosport.

The bad news: Wilson is 18th, which means all four Andretti cars are 18th or worse (Ryan Hunter-Reay is 19th, Carlos Munoz 21st and Marco Andretti 24th), and Hondas are struggling mightily with one or more of the following issues: setup, balance, too much/too little downforce and not enough top end speed.

Only Jack Hawksworth and James Hinchcliffe, in 11th and 13th respectively, broke up the 13 Chevrolet entrants from a top-13 lockout. Chevys ran 1-10, 12, 14 and 15 in qualifying; Hondas were 11th, 13th, and 16th to 25th and last.

Friday marked only Wilson’s second day in an IndyCar this year, and when I spoke to him briefly before third practice this morning, you could easily sense the frustration despite his best efforts to mask it.

Still, ever the gentleman and ever the consummate professional, Wilson is keeping his head up despite the circumstances on arguably one of his toughest weekends yet in his IndyCar career, which dates to 2004.

This weekend, he’s racing with a new team and getting his first laps behind the wheel of the new Honda aero kit-equipped Verizon IndyCar. He’ll have Blair Perschbacher as engineer along with Andretti Autosport director of race operations Rob Edwards overseeing the effort. He completed 57 laps on Thursday and today, was right in the thick of things on Friday despite not having been behind the wheel of an IndyCar in road course trim since August 2014.

The positive sign, if any, from the day was how much better Wilson said the car felt on Firestone’s softer red alternate tires, compared to the harder, primary blacks.

“We went out on black tires for the first run and I felt so loose, I thought we over shot this run, but we seem to be on one side of the balance and can’t seem to find that sweet spot right in the middle,” Wilson said in a release.

“When we put the Firestone red tires on the car, it brought the balance to life and we actually started to roll some speed into the corners and we started to get some grip. It was good, I just wish we could be a fraction quicker.

“We’re pushing, we’re trying hard and we have been behind all weekend, but we’re trying to catch up. I’ve been really happy with our tire life, so I’m hoping that is going to continue into race day and play in our favor so we’ll have a good consistent car.”

If results were handed out on positivity, professionalism and persistence alone, Wilson would already be a podium contender on Saturday.

Alas, it might take a bit of rain, a bit of luck, and a bit more pace for the Honda runners for Wilson’s first start of 2015 to bear the result all parties desire.

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.