Zach Veach ticks all the right boxes in Barber debut weekend

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On paper, starting and finishing 19th in one race is nothing impressive. Zach Veach’s weekend at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was not something that can merely be categorized as “by the books,” though.

The 22-year-old rookie out of Stockdale, Ohio made all the right progression throughout his first full weekend in the Verizon IndyCar Series, a confidence booster that saw him improve methodically with each passing session and then finish all 90 laps in his race debut.

Veach was called up as an injury fill-in for JR Hildebrand, sidelined after sustaining a broken bone in his left hand on the last lap at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, to drive the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on the notoriously difficult, physical Barber Motorsports Park circuit.

Despite starting a bit off the mark by current, entirely compressed IndyCar standards where a second usually covers the entire field, Veach closed the gap to the overall leader from 2.5 seconds in first practice to 2 in the second, and down to 1.7 by qualifying. Similarly, he closed on teammate Spencer Pigot in each session as well, from 1.5 off in first practice to 1.1 in the second, 0.8 in the third and just 0.5 in qualifying.

More to the point, he stayed out of trouble with no major mistakes on or off track, and his Ed Carpenter Racing team was smart to not run him in the treacherous rain and damp conditions in Sunday morning warmup. Hildebrand, too, took Veach under his wing playing mentor and coach in a weekend he didn’t expect to be sidelined – but was gracious as ever.

Veach ran as high as fourth in the race off-sequence on the first stint, and his only major faux pas was when he came back into the pits on a closed pit following a restart and took additional service. That netted him a drive-through and probably cost him about two spots, but it was hardly an egregious error.

“Overall, I’m pretty happy with our first Verizon IndyCar Series weekend,” said Veach, who was participating in his first IndyCar running since a single test day with ECR at Sonoma last September.

“For what it was coming in here on short notice and a limited amount of time to get familiar with the car, I’m really happy with the progress that we made. I couldn’t have done it without the help of JR Hildebrand and the entire crew at Ed Carpenter Racing.”

Although Veach co-drove in a two-plus hour IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship sports car race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2015 in a JDC-Miller Motorsports Prototype Challenge car, he hadn’t run a race as long as this one on his own in his career. All the races he’d run in Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires races between Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 since 2010 were an hour or less.

“Everyone here was so open to helping get me up to speed,” he said. “They helped me from Lap 1 all the way to the end of the race. This was the longest race I’ve ever done in my life and part of that was learning how to save fuel and doing my first real race pit stops. Overall, I’m pretty happy with how it went. Granted, I think we would have loved to have a little more speed, but with the amount of time I had in the car, to come home where we did I think says a lot!”

Veach now has a full race under his belt before he debuts at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in a third Chevrolet-powered entry for AJ Foyt Racing.

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver lineup will again be a story this week heading into Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Hildebrand is hoping to be cleared to drive but if not, it remains to be seen whether Veach will get another shot, or whether Pigot gets a call-up for what would be only his second oval start in an IndyCar. Team owner Carpenter is slated to make his first start of 2017 next weekend in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. On Sunday, Pigot ran as high as fourth after starting 17th but had a spin off Turn 5 that cost him a likely second straight top-10 result, having run eighth most of his second stint.

Veach now joins the list of young guns with recent Indy Lights experience – Matthew Brabham, RC Enerson and Stefan Wilson among others – with only a handful of IndyCar starts under their belt awaiting a full-time shot, but can now say he is an IndyCar driver for life.

Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list; Musquin remains out

Shimoda injured
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Bad news continues to come out of the Monster Energy / Pro Circuit Kawasaki team as they announced Jo Shimoda injured his shoulder in a practice session and will not mount up when the Monster Energy Supercross 250 East division opens in Houston, Texas on February 4. A timetable has not been given for Shimoda’s return, but a press release from the team references multiple weeks.

“I’m doing my best to focus forward on my return to racing,” said Shimoda in the release. “Our goal was to compete for the 250 Supercross Eastern Regional Championship and I know we had been doing the right work to make that happen. Unfortunately, this crash will cause me to miss the start of the season, but I still aim to be back on the track racing for wins before the end of Supercross.”

Shimoda is joined on the sidelines by teammates Seth Hammaker and Austin Forkner, who also suffered injuries in recent weeks.

The news of Hammaker’s sidelining came just two days ago. His wrist injury is sufficient to require surgery, so he too will miss multiple weeks. Hammaker was scheduled to compete in the 250 East division alongside Shimoda.

Forkner was involved in a Lap 1 crash in the 250 West season opener at Anaheim. Multiple injuries, including an ACL tear, will sideline him for the remainder of the season. He described the injury and its aftermath on Instagram.

Forkner will be relieved by Carson Mumford, but not before that rider’s wrist has healed sufficiently. He is scheduled to debut with Kawasaki in Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 Supercross race on February 18.

Shimoda finished fourth in the 2022 Supercross 250 West division and was second in 2021 points in 250 East. In 2021, Shimoda won his first Supercross race at Salt Lake City. Last year, he scored one podium and six top-fives in nine starts.

Shimoda finished second in last year’s outdoor Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season, where he added two more SuperMotocross wins including the Unadilla Nationals that kicked off a four-race streak of first- or second-place results.

Kawasaki is not the only team facing injury. Red Bull KTM initially reported Marvin Musquin would be out for the San Diego round with a wrist injury and “maybe more”. This week it was announced he will miss this week’s Triple Crown race in Anaheim and “at least the next several rounds.”