Photo: Tony DiZinno

St. Petersburg weekend, Thursday notes

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A few updates from the day at St. Petersburg, where a mix of pre-event items took place and on-track running occurred in the afternoon:

INDYCAR

  • Spoke with both Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud today of Team Penske. Montoya discussed the caliber of competition and noting how much tougher it is to win now versus the last time he won a championship in 1999 (had seven wins, and won on a tiebreaker). “If you’ve got four great drivers at Team Penske and 15, 16 races, there’s a reduction right there,” he said, among other notes as he and Pagenaud prepare for the season.
  • Also caught up with Alexander Rossi of Andretti-Herta Autosport. More will follow from him tomorrow, but the American is prepared and focused on IndyCar ahead of his series debut this weekend.
  • Both Conor Daly and Luca Filippi are optimistic Dale Coyne Racing and Honda have made gains after a successful Sebring test.
  • KVSH Racing confirmed GEICO will continue with the team for a ninth consecutive season, extending a partnership that dates to 2008.
  • The silver Verizon Team Penske liveries for Montoya and Will Power look even better in person.
  • INDYCAR announced additional programming details for 2016; more should follow with regards to our NBCSN coverage in a separate post.
  • From a track walk today, there doesn’t appear to be any major changes to the surface or any of the curbs. We’ll know for sure how the drivers react tomorrow after first practice.

MRTI

  • ArmsUp Motorsports announced its Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda plans, with Victor Franzoni and Max Hanratty anticipated for full season efforts and with Danny Weyls and Dale VandenBush set to run in the National Class at the Indianapolis Grand Prix weekend and Road America. Zachary Claman DeMelo also tested one of ArmsUp’s USF2000 cars – formerly James Dayson’s – during today’s test.
  • Anthony Martin topped the lone practice session, which like others on Thursday was truncated due to lunch time activities delay (cut from 30 minutes to 20 minutes).
  • Had some positive chats with Scott Hargrove (Team Pelfrey) and Zach Veach (Belardi Auto Racing) in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires paddock. Neither driver is yet officially confirmed for the full season, though the intention and goals for both are to do just that. Veach won here in 2014, for his first career Indy Lights win.
  • Also met the quartet of Team Pelfrey’s USF2000 crew – it will be fascinating to watch the growth and development of Robert Megennis, Jordan Cane, TJ Fischer and James Munro. Pabst Racing’s Jordan Lloyd is also excited to be back after his extended hiatus last year.

PWC

  • Patrick Long’s EFFORT Racing is team is working tirelessly to repair its Porsche 911 GT3 R, damaged last weekend at Circuit of The Americas. Long tested in teammate Michael Lewis’ Porsche on Thursday but is not expected to have his car back until mid-day at the earliest.
  • Austin Cindric of K-PAX Racing returns to St. Petersburg for the first time since 2014. Cindric, 17, is keen to break a drought of tough races regardless of series (PWC, Bathurst 12 Hour, NASCAR Camping World Trucks and Red Bull Global Rallycross Lites division) since last September. He’s raced twice at St. Petersburg in USF2000 (2013 and 2014).
  • All PWC sessions were delayed and truncated today due to the lunchtime delays. As last year, it’s the GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS classes on hand here this weekend.

SOCIAL

Rising Star Racing’s trio of Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot and Neil Alberico assisted Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Louis Murphy in changing tires on the two-seater IndyCar.

Chicanery and pranks are already underway between a couple teams. Andretti Autosport exercised this one on Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, with James Hinchcliffe’s bike being moved to a pedestrian bridge.

Here’s what the USF2000 cars looked like rolling out…

… and here’s what Parker Thompson’s car (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) looks like after a rare accident during the session.

More to come tomorrow from St. Petersburg.

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.