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Team Penske considers return to sports cars; ‘We could move a program in tomorrow’

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. –Team Penske’s sprawling headquarters occupies more than 400,000 square feet, 90,000 of which remain undeveloped.

Could the team that has stakes in IndyCar, NASCAR and V8 Supercars (with a base in Australia) be considering another racing series to occupy its vacant space?

Yes, and it would be a familiar operation: Sports cars.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric said a sports car team would be a virtual plug-and-play endeavor for the storied organization, and he believes a prototype push in sports cars might drive the funding to return.

“We have the flexibility to do that, and we’ve pursued that really since 2009,” Cindric said during an episode of this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast.

“A factory-type program. But essentially the prototype side of it really hasn’t had a lot of factory support up until now. I think you’ll see in the next two to three years a lot of factories coming in and supporting this new IMSA series to where you have four different manufacturers now of the cars. There’s going to be a lot more factory support.

“So we’ll continue to look at that as far as a program to bring in-house here. But the moons haven’t aligned. But we could move a sports car program in here tomorrow and replace the one we had before.”

Team Penske raced an LMP2 class Porsche RS Spyder in the American Le Mans Series from 2005-08, winning three consecutive championships, and ran the GRAND-AM Series in 2009. Those circuits merged as the rebranded IMSA championship in 2014.

If Penske were to restart its sports car team, Cindric said it might affect how any possible expansion plans for its two-car Sprint Cup operation.

“If we were to do sports car and add in NASCAR, we probably would have to add a little architecture to the place,” Cindric said. “But we’re well positioned to expand.”

Team Penske also is intrigued by the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, which has drawn entries from fellow IndyCar teams Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, SH Rallycross and Bryan Herta Rallysport.

The Red Bull-sponsored OMSE team also races Global Rallycross from a base in Mooresville near NASCAR’s Technical Institute. Cindric’s son, Austin, raced GRC Lites for OMSE last season.

Tim Cindric said Global Rallycross is “something we look at” but wasn’t a short-term priority for Penske.

“But it’s an up and coming sport,” he said. “It’s a differentiator. It’s the right demographics.”

Of course, a return to another racing series would make the biggest splash: Formula One. Penske fielded F1 cars in the 1970s, winning the 1976 Grand Prix of Austria with John Watson.

Could an F1 operation slide onto the same campus with NASCAR and IndyCar teams?

“Roger’s been there and done that,” Cindric said. “So I don’t think that’s something he’s interested in doing right now. But I guess within the Penske family, (sons) Jay, Greg and Roger Jr. all have the racing bug. They haven’t been there and done that. Jay has a Formula E team, and he races throughout the world in the electric series right now.

“So I wouldn’t say never. I’d just say Roger probably isn’t going to be the one to push the button on that one.”

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.