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Gutierrez impresses on debut with Coyne

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It is never easy to join the Verizon IndyCar Series in the middle of a season. It’s even harder when you haven’t even made an IndyCar start in your career.

That was the challenge facing Esteban Gutierrez this weekend at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. Subbing for the injured Sebastien Bourdais, Gutierrez was only confirmed to drive the No. 18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing on June 1, one day before practice began for the Detroit doubleheader.

And despite being a veteran of three Formula 1 seasons (two with Sauber F1 team from 2013-2014 and one with Haas F1 Team in 2016) and contesting three events in this season’s FIA Formula E Championship, he had never driven an IndyCar until morning practice on Friday.

Esteban Gutierrez waves to the fans at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear. Photo: IndyCar

Still, the 25-year-old proved his mettle by making progress throughout the weekend, finishing 19th in Race 1 and 14th in Race 2. Though unspectacular, it was a successful debut for the 25-year-old, who brought the car home in one piece in both races with no apparent mistakes. He immediately gave credit to Dale Coyne Racing for making the transition go as smoothly as possible.

“I’m very pleased and very grateful with the support I got from the team,” he said after Race 1 on Saturday. “It’s been very important for me to get into a rhythm. Obviously, it was a very big challenge to throw ourselves into a weekend at Detroit. A very difficult track and not knowing the car.”

While Race 1 was admittedly about settling into a rhythm, Gutierrez began showing competitive form in Race 2, where he had a stout battle with Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti late in the day. While their battle was outside the top ten, with Gutierrez eventually finishing 14th, the weekend ended on a positive note and Gutierrez is hopeful for more opportunities.

“It was a fantastic experience,” he said of his IndyCar debut weekend. “I really loved the experience this weekend, we have fantastic mechanics and engineers that supported me and helped me get comfortable with the car and all the procedures. It was pretty special and I look forward to more, hopefully.”

Though no official announcements have been made, expectations are that Gutierrez will continue with Dale Coyne Racing for further races this year.

The status of whether Gutierrez will race at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend will come in the next day or two, as he’d need a rookie test scheduled before being cleared to race.

It will likely fall to a team veteran to fill in for Gutierrez at Texas if he is not able to test first.

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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.