Photo: Red Bull Global Rallycross

Red Bull GRC: Patriotism, high speed highlight trip to MCAS New River

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Red Bull Global Rallycross will be all about the red, white and blue with its trip to the Marine Corps Air Station – or MCAS – New River this weekend in Jacksonville, N.C. for Rounds 6 and 7 of the season (Saturday and Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, NBC).

The event quickly proved a highlight on the full schedule last year, with its inaugural trip wowing military members and providing a great point of interaction for them with the Red Bull Global Rallycross paddock, drivers and teams. This year, further Marine interaction and a street party will kick off the weekend.

Last year’s race was only the fourth round of 12 in the 2015 season. This year, it’s a doubleheader, and already pushes the Red Bull GRC season – which only started a little more than a month ago – past its halfway point.

So beyond it being patriotic, it’s also a pivotal weekend to finish the first half and start the first race of the second half strongly. The track laid out at The Base is 0.713 of a mile, split 58.3 percent pavement to 41.7 percent dirt.

Thus far the top two drivers in the series are Tanner Foust and Steve Arpin, with Foust currently holding a 32-point lead over Arpin. The pair split the wins in Daytona, Arpin having secured his elusive first win in Red Bull GRC for Chip Ganassi Rallycross on Saturday in a chaotic final, while Foust bounced back on Sunday with his third win of the year for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross.

Arpin said the pressure to perform in front of the Marine Corps this weekend will be his driving focus as he looks to continue his hot start to the season in the No. 00 Jacob Companies Ford Fiesta ST.

“All I think about New River is it’s huge!” Arpin told NBC Sports after winning his first race at Daytona. “It’s gonna be our Super Bowl.

“I think first and foremost is, and I never knew how much of an impact this will be, until in the moment, but literally to have the opportunity to be there and see the smile and excitement we can put on the men and women face that fight for us. It was the most humbling feeling I’ve had in my entire life. I think of that more so than the racing. It should be such a great opportunity.

“That being said on the racing side of it, we know it will be a big fast track. One of VW’s strengths is big, high speed tracks. So we will try to find a bit more speed.”

Foust, and VARX teammate Scott Speed, will need to atone for a nightmare trip to MCAS New River last year. Both cars failed to make the final round with a series of mechanical gremlins sidelining them in the preliminary rounds.

“We did find a small component – literally a flywheel bolt made of bad material, and we had a bad batch,” Foust, driver of the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Volkswagen Beetle, explained to NBC Sports. “So we had engine problems. And then I had a collision with Ken (Block) in Turn 1 that broke my car. It’s a great environment. We have a bit of work to do. But our Beetles are fast, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Speed, in the specially liveried No. 41 Special Operations Warrior Foundation Volkswagen, also seeks a bounce back after his challenging Daytona weekend, where he had an engine change, then a fire, then a switch to a backup car – but he still brought home a second place finish in Sunday’s second round of the weekend.

Two of last year’s top three finishers, race winner Block and third-placed Nelson Piquet Jr., won’t be back to defend their results from a year ago. So that leaves the races a bit more wide open.

Another Ford driver, Patrik Sandell, sits fourth in the points in his No. 18 Kobalt Tools Ford for Bryan Herta Rallysport. He was second here last year. Then-teammate Austin Dyne was fourth, and that marks his most recent top-five finish.

Piquet’s replacement at SH Rallycross/DRR – Jeff Ward – is due a good result after a frustrating start to the season in the No. 07 MET-Rx Ford Fiesta ST. Ward sits only eighth in the championship standings.

Arpin’s teammate at Ganassi, Brian Deegan, made his regular season debut with the team this race last year but failed to finish in the final. He’ll be keen to secure his first win for Ganassi in one of the two races.

Then there’s the Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Honda Civic pair of Joni Wiman and Sebastian Eriksson, who have been poised to break through with improved reliability as the year has progressed. Eriksson has made three trips to the podium while Wiman, the 2014 series champion, hasn’t yet this year but was fourth in both Daytona races.

“Being able to race in front of all of the servicemen and women who work and call the base (MCAS New River) home is truly special, and on top of that we get to compete with them on July 4th weekend,” Wiman said. “I am really looking forward to the first practice session so we can truly see how fast this course is.”

Of note, the Subaru Rally Team returns for the first time this year with Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek. Rhys Millen (Hyundai Veloster) misses his first weekend of the year.

Coverage of both races is at 5 p.m. ET on NBC, each of Saturday and Sunday.

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.