It speaks volumes about how much better Zach Veach and the Belardi Auto Racing team are as a collective unit in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season, that second place last weekend in Iowa Speedway was such a bitter pill to swallow.
Veach lost the lead in the final laps when trying to lap Carlin’s Neil Alberico, and Felix Serralles had enough momentum to pass on the inside through Turns 1 and 2 to snatch the victory. Veach, who’d started sixth but improved to the lead in his No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda, was left to finish second.
But considering the opening eight races this year brought only two podium finishes (two third-place results), Veach has now added three straight since Road America with a win there in race one, third in race two and second now at Iowa.
He’s obviously been the highest scoring driver in the series in that stretch and has leapt from seventh in points after the Freedom 100, then 71 points behind points leader Ed Jones, to now fifth in points and 42 back with seven races to go – and perhaps still with an outside shot at the title depending on the fortunes of Jones and his proverbial sparring partners, rookies Dean Stoneman and Santiago Urrutia.
“Honestly it’s about keeping that momentum going,” Veach told NBC Sports. “We got to the halfway point in the season where it all came to me. After my first year in 2013, I did the offseason testing and learned more. I came back in 2014 and we were right where we needed to be.
“It’s similar this year, but in a much quicker time frame,” he added. “We had speed and incredible car at St. Pete, once we got further into the year, I kept making mistakes. I was under-driving when it was fast, and then started over-driving and making mistakes. I’m performing back to where I am as I can. Really excited for Toronto because we’re building now.”
You’d expect Veach, the 21-year-old out of Stockdale, Ohio who’s in his sixth year on the Mazda Road to Indy (2010-2014) to be in title contention because this is his third year in Indy Lights. But that being said, this is his first year in the new car, having raced the old car in 2013 and 2014.
And the other element of concern for Veach of course going into this year was that although the intention was always to complete the full year, the year began on a several-race tryout to see if they could keep going.
“Honestly it started off where, right, things were looking good for about half a year,” Veach explained. “We got to the halfway point… then we win and get third at Road America. Now after the second, now we’re almost back in the championship, and we’ve bettered our odds to stay in for the year.”
Veach enters this weekend’s Indy Lights doubleheader weekend in Toronto with his third different teammate situation in as many weekends at the Brian Belardi-owned, John Brunner-led team.
At Road America, he had series debutante but local track veteran James French in the second car while Felix Rosenqvist had a European commitment (DTM) – although he was still pleased to see Veach won.
At Iowa, Veach ran solo and while Rosenqvist is back this weekend in Toronto, the second car remains TBD for Mid-Ohio because Rosenqvist will be at the Spa 24 Hours on the same weekend.
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Test for Spa 24h completed. So much fun to drive the #AMG beast around this track. Also happy to welcome @rengervdz to our lineup. Stay tuned for the big race 30-31 July, will be a special weekend for sure! #Spa #Francorchamps #24hours @akkaaspteam @mercedesamg #88 #VautierRosenqvistVanDerZande 🇫🇷🇸🇪🇱🇺
That makes the continuity difficult, but Veach is rolling with the changes and welcomes having Rosenqvist’s presence at least for this weekend, first.
“Felix is a friend first before a competitor,” Veach says of the driver he’s called the “best teammate he’s ever had.”
“And yeah, not having a teammate or different ones can be tough. But Belardi Auto Racing has been one team. Everyone puts their efforts into one goal. There’s no rivalry inside the team.
“It’s basically a small family. John Brunner does a great job running the team. It doesn’t feel like a small team. You feel like you have a chance to push it every single weekend.”
Veach finished fifth in 2014, and seventh in 2013, in his two past Indy Lights starts in Toronto.