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IndyCar teams turn attention to preparing for Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) IndyCar team owner Sam Schmidt started plotting Indianapolis 500 strategy even before Saturday’s race ended.

He certainly wasn’t alone.

With Will Power dominating practice, qualifying and the IndyCar Grand Prix for his first win of the season, just about everyone else in Gasoline Alley began looking ahead to Monday’s opening practice for the Indianapolis 500.

“Since we had such a crappy grand prix, I think (our focus) shifted 30 minutes ago,” Schmidt said shortly after the race ended. “Maybe even as much as an hour ago. We know we have good cars for the 500 and hopefully we can be as good as we were last year. Right now is when we start working on the cars for the 500.”

There’s no time to waste for anyone.

In less than 48 hours, speedway workers must convert the track from the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course into the traditional 2.5-mile oval.

Crew members will scramble to change the cars to perform on four distinct corners and at speeds nearing or topping 230 mph.

Strategists will plan when to run in qualifying trim, when to run in race trim and how weather could affect next week’s two qualification rounds and the May 28 race.

Drivers will have to contend with much more traffic, with 33 cars expected to fill the traditional 11-row, three-car starting grid.

And numbers crunchers will get ready for the data influx that comes only once a year.

It’s all part of the biggest month in racing.

“It’s definitely a different deal,” said Power, who is still looking for his first 500 win. “You (have to) get in a groove – you have plenty of time to get in that grove. You just run so many miles around this place that you know it too well, but you can’t get too comfortable.”

The Australian drives for powerhouse Team Penske, which has won the 500 a record 16 times, three of the four road races in Indy and two of the last three series titles.

But since Brazil’s Helio Castroneves became the first foreign-born three-time winner in 2009, Penske’s team has won one 500 – in 2015, when Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya captured his second win. Another win would put Castroneves in the four-win club, which only has three members: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

The always-energetic Castroneves, now 41, couldn’t contain his excitement. Just 15 minutes after a fifth-place finish in the grand prix, he was already talking about his next mission – scaling Indy’s catch-fence one more time.

“They (the crew) will take about 12 hours to convert the car from road course to oval – they’re already going to start making some changes,” he said. “We’re going to take a little bit of time to focus, start setting the strategy for the week and hope for the best.”

Another major change for the IndyCar regulars: dealing with the number of one-off racers that will be on the track Monday, including the highly anticipated arrival of two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

After finishing 12th in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, the Indy rookie flew to the United States, where he will stay through race day.

Montoya made his season debut Saturday and will run in the 500.

Last season, Alexander Rossi proved that anyone – even an underdog rookie – can win the race. If he’s going to become the first American to win back-to-back 500s since 1970-71, he knows it’s time to get ready.

“The thing about the 500 is you don’t really have a plan, to be honest. It’s such a long race and it’s one of the few ones we don’t really necessarily go into with a set strategy, we just kind of play it by ear,” he said Saturday. “I guess (Sunday) is when it really begins.”

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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.