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Red Bull GRC: Daytona offers first chance at familiarity in 2016

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Last year’s first two races of the Red Bull Global Rallycross season were at Ft. Lauderdale and the X Games in Austin, the latter of which was a non-points race.

Then the series headed to the infield road course at Daytona, for what proved to be two barnburner races won by Tanner Foust and Sebastian Eriksson. Eriksson, then a rookie, secured his first and thus far only final round win in Red Bull GRC.

The story is a bit similar this year. The series’ first two race weekends have come at Phoenix and Dallas, two tracks that weren’t on the calendar last year.

And now, the series heads to Daytona this weekend for Rounds 4 and 5 (airs Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, hosted by Rick Allen, Anders Krohn and Kristen Kenney), for its second doubleheader weekend of the year and first where familiarity will be an important factor.

Patrik Sandell won the series’ most recent round in Dallas to move into second place in the championship behind Foust, who swept the Phoenix doubleheader.

The driver of the No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford Fiesta ST for Bryan Herta Rallysport says his team needs to maximize its early weekend pace throughout a double race weekend, since they’ve noticed teams have caught up to them quickly.

“We haven’t really figured out yet why it’s been that way!” Sandell told NBC Sports. “Normally we’re very quick and very fast in the first 2-3 laps. Normally we come to an event and know where the setup will be. It’s been 90 percent good straightaway.

“But we have to learn … and we did in Dallas, where we’d work on details, and had different launch maps there. We have to do things like that in Daytona as well. You have to watch when we get more rubber down, when there’s water down vs. not, so there’s many things we need to keep track of. We have to change the car and try to make it better for each session, even if we know the track.”

Eriksson, meanwhile, who drives the No. 93 Red Bull Honda Civic Coupe for Olsbergs MSE, has a bit of familiarity for the first time in his GRC Supercars career. The young, talented Swede is still learning his new car that OMSE has developed but comes into Daytona with the momentum from winning here last year.

“For us, racing at Daytona is really cool because of the history of the track,” Eriksson said in Honda’s pre-race advance. “To defend my first victory in Red Bull GRC in the Honda Civic would be special. The team has worked really hard coming into this weekend and we expect to be up at the front and running hard all weekend long.”

Another driver who can use this race as a potential springboard to success is SH Rallycross’ Jeff Ward. Ward, who will drive the No. 07 MET-Rx SH Rallycross/DRR Ford Fiesta ST on Saturday before the car shifts to WIX Filters primary sponsorship on Sunday (360fly remains on the car in an associate role for both races), raced here last year and was fun to watch, particularly in race two when he had a big battle with then-teammate Steve Arpin.

Foust and Scott Speed, of course, in the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetles, are always tough to beat. Speed, in particular, will look to avenge a nightmare Daytona 2015 weekend.

The other six Supercars entries are Arpin and Brian Deegan in the two Chip Ganassi Racing Fords, Eriksson’s teammate Joni Wiman, and then Austin Dyne and Rhys Millen before Sebastian Saavedra makes his return to the field for his second race start.

A 15-car GRC Lites field is highlighted by the team debut of CORE autosport, with two cars for Jon Bennett and Colin Braun.

Entry lists for both divisions are linked here.

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.