Photo courtesy of IMSA

Pagenaud, Pigot star among IndyCar drivers at Petit Le Mans

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The five-pack of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers competing at this year’s Petit Le Mans – newly crowned series champion Simon Pagenaud along with Spencer Pigot, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay – had interesting days at the office on Saturday.

The battle between Pagenaud and Pigot in the second half of the race over podium positions proved one of the highlights of the race.

Pagenaud didn’t even get into the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP until more than six hours of the 10-hour IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race were complete. When he did, he found himself racing Pigot, who was in his second Mazda Prototype of the day, this time the No. 70 car after the No. 55 had electrical issues and retired in the third hour.

Pigot, who has taken to the prototypes like a duck to water this year, passed Pagenaud not once but twice during the race. And he’d also battled intently with Ricky Taylor, his longtime friend in Orlando and occasional “karting driveway” rival.

The No. 70 car was poised for an overdue first podium finish of the year before heartbreak struck in the final 15 minutes of the race; a broken fuel injector contributed to a fire and a retirement for the car Pigot shared with full-season drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller.

It was a tough end for the last race of the current generation Mazda Prototype – which was homologated as a Lola B12/80 chassis and marked the last ever professional start for the venerable British constructor Lola Cars, which began in the 1950s before ending as a company in 2012.

“It was a joy to drive the car. Everything was working great. The engineers did an awesome job with the handling, and the Mazda engine was working fantastic for me,” Pigot said afterwards.

“I just had a lot of fun out there. I was able to battle with a lot of good guys – Simon [Pagenaud] and Ricky [Taylor]- back and forth a lot. It was clean, good hard racing. The team definitely deserved to be on the podium. They worked incredibly hard. It’s a shame what happened to the 55 car early in the race but everyone was out supporting the 70 – and that’s what Mazda’s all about. It’s a big family and I wish it had ended a little bit different.”

Pagenaud, meanwhile, had to account for the long wait time before his opening stint. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox entry finished fourth on the day, but one spot ahead of the sister Action Express car to secure Dane Cameron and Eric Curran the full-season championship.

“It was long. I hate waiting! But that’s part of the job what you do as the third driver,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports post-race. “It wasn’t easy because I had the sun coming down going into the night. Not an easy stint. Simon the engineer put me in a good situation. It paid off.”

The other three IndyCar drivers didn’t get their usual chance to start as much.

Sebastien Bourdais was part of the sister No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT that finished second in GT Le Mans in the car he shared with Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand.

A broken waste gate pipe slowed the progress of the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT shared by Scott Dixon with full-season co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, who were going for the championship. That car finished seventh.

A forgettable season for Visit Florida Racing was hamstrung by engine issues, and left Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 90 Corvette DP car he shared with Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens seventh in class.

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.