John Force eager to put new Camaro body through its paces at Topeka

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It’s not very often that a new car body style draws such attention and is the topic of a major announcement by a team and a car manufacturer.

But that was certainly the case Tuesday, when 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force and Chevrolet announced a new, state-of-the-art Chevy Camaro body that Force will debut in this weekend’s race at Topeka, Kansas.

In most cases, teams or manufacturers just issue a press release and maybe add a photo or artist’s rendering. But that wasn’t the case this time, as this was big news for the Force camp and Chevrolet.

The press conference held at Force’s Midwest headquarters in Brownsburg, Indiana, was well-attended by the media. And judging by the response of Force, fellow drivers Courtney Force and Robert Hight and others in attendance, it’s likely this new body style will go a long way towards potentially taking all three John Force Racing Funny Car drivers to victory lane and the top of the standings.

When asked if this is the most advanced and aerodynamic body he’s ever had in his three-plus decade Funny Car career, Force didn’t hold back.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “They spent a year and a half on this. Robert Hight told me our team was involved, (crew chiefs) Mike Neff and Dean Antonelli, Robert and our shops, Chevrolet engineers, went to work on this for the basic concept.

“It wasn’t like we just built something. We wind tunneled in old days too, but not like this. They went through a lot of this. Took a year and a half and finally it’s here.”

Force will get first dibs on debuting the car. After all, he is the team’s star driver, owns the team and is the winningest driver and champion in NHRA history on any level of competition.

“This is the first body,” Force said. “We’ll run it and see how it all works. The second one is being mounted and will go on Robert’s car. The third will go on Courtney’s car. The changes they’ve made are beautiful.”

Plans are for Hight to debut his new ride in New Hampshire, while Courtney Force is slated to debut her new car in Chicago. However, John Force said he may reverse the order and have Courtney debut her car first at New Hampshire.

“The key is the things they did in safety and staying within the rules of the new car the way it was built,” John Force said when asked what are the top attributes of the new car. “We used to have the burst panels in front of the engine. When it explodes, it has to go that direction to get out.

“Now and then the panel blew up in front. At 300 mph, you’re trying to close it, everything works against it and destroys the body. We put the body right over where the burst panels are, and the manifold we built (has) four outlets.

“The biggest thing is the view of the window is like panoramic, like a movie theater. The engine has never moved. The roofline went up over the injector. There’s this thing you look over, and you only have got that much room. You can’t line your car up.

“Now with the setting back you can look down both sides of the motor. Now you can find where you’re at.”

Hight concurred with his boss and father-in-law about the better vision they’ll have behind the wheel.

“Just the shape of the whole: the roof, the windshield, side windows, there’s a lot of
strength in that shape that we don’t need a lot of reinforcement and structure in the car.

“That’s all just obstructions for the driver. The windshield’s moved back closer toward the driver so now your peripheral is wider. Like John said it’s a big old picture window.”

Courtney Force also likes what she sees in the new body style.

“There are 300 guys at John Force Racing that really took this project on from the beginning and the engineers at Chevrolet,” Courtney Force said. “We wanted it to look the Chevrolet Camaro SS, but we still wanted it to perform and we wanted it to be fast.

“I think we found the perfect balance in the 2016 Chevy body that we’re putting on this Funny Car and we’re definitely excited to see how it’s going to run.”

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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.