Photo: Tony DiZinno

Shank, RealTime Acura NSX GT3 programs confirmed

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SONOMA, Calif. – You’ve seen the new Acura NSX GT3, which has been through its initial testing and first public outings at both the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Utah Motorsports Complex, but which won’t be in action this weekend at either Circuit of The Americas or Sonoma Raceway because of the tight time frame before the upcoming FIA Balance of Performance test in Ladoux, France, which follows this weekend’s racing.

You will note that both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge are in action at COTA and Sonoma though, and this weekend generally does seem to be a good time for announcements to occur. And today, they have.

In a joint press conference at both COTA and Sonoma, the projected, leading teams for both programs – the RealTime Racing team for Pirelli World Challenge and the Michael Shank Racing team for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – have been confirmed to run two Acura NSX GT3s apiece in their respective championships next season.

“The NSX was designed as a pinnacle expression of Acura Precision Crafted Performance, and we’re looking forward to proving its ultimate performance capabilities in GT3 competition,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development, which will oversee the Acura Motorsports GT3 effort. “By continuing our longtime partnership with RealTime Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge and extending our association with Michael Shank Racing in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, we plan to build on Acura’s long tradition of success in North American sports car racing.”

“To say that we’re thrilled to be a part of the Acura Motorsports program in 2017 would be a massive understatement,” said MSR team owner Michael Shank. “This is a huge step forward in the development of our team, and we’re looking forward to working with HPD to add to Acura’s history of success in North American endurance racing.”

RealTime founder Peter Cunningham is enthused about continuing his team’s long-term relationship with Acura, including 14 victories in World Challenge competition with the first-generation NSX and winning the 1997 GT championship. “After personally being involved with the initial track testing and racing of the first generation Acura NSX 26 years ago, it is a great honor for my team and I to have this opportunity with the NSX GT3 program,” he said. “The new generation NSX is an incredible machine, and will be a great platform for RealTime and Acura to contend for the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge title.”

Drivers have not yet been confirmed but appear to be more or less set for 2017. There could be the potential of some crossover of drivers, per program development manager Lee Niffenegger, but nothing is set in stone.

Both teams are in action this weekend. Peter Kox substitutes for Spencer Pumpelly in RealTime’s Acura TLX-GT at Sonoma alongside Ryan Eversley; Pumpelly is on double duty in Austin this weekend (Lamborghini Huracán GT3 for Change Racing in GT Daytona and a Porsche Cayman for Rennsport One in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class).

Given the Honda/Shank relationship that’s grown over two years in Shank’s LMP2 car, this move makes sense on a couple fronts. Ozz Negri and John Pew currently compete in the team’s Ligier JS P2 Honda.

Until today, while Acura had been descriptive about the NSX GT3 as a car, it hadn’t directly identified team names. But if you read the tea leaves you pretty much could have indicated where the car will be racing (almost certainly both major U.S. sports car series listed above) and with the respective teams.

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.