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Zach Veach confirmed with Andretti Autosport in fourth car

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Zach Veach, a young American driver, has been confirmed Wednesday as Andretti Autosport’s fourth driver for 2018 in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The partnership announcement about this year and likely beyond for Veach is slated for Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“We are excited to give Zach the opportunity to show what he can do at the highest level, and I’m looking forward to welcoming him home, so to speak,” said Michael Andretti, CEO, Andretti Autosport. “Zach started his INDYCAR career with us in USF2000 and has driven in every step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with Andretti Autosport. He’s a driver that has always impressed me. Zach works hard, and he takes something away from every time he’s in the car – he’s constantly improving. He’s put the effort in, found success at every level and now his dream has come full circle.”

The 22-year-old American driver made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut April 23, 2017, at Barber Motorsport Park and his Indy 500 debut at this year’s 101st Running.

“I’ve been thinking about this day since St. Petersburg in 2010 when I sat beside Michael Andretti announcing that I’d be competing in USF2000 for his team,” said Veach. “To be driving in the Verizon IndyCar series with them is a dream come true and I can’t wait to get started.”

This solidifies Andretti Autosport’s four-car full-season lineup in mid-September, as Veach will join an all-American quartet alongside long-term drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, and the recently re-signed Alexander Rossi.

Andretti told NBC Sports at Watkins Glen just before the Rossi signing came out that he was optimistic of having all four cars done by Sonoma. “At this moment we’re looking at four cars. We’re close on the one. I feel good that we’ll have something to announce at Sonoma,” he said then.

Rumors percolated over this summer that Veach, who was known for his marketing ability and work ethic to find sponsors in his early years in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, was working on a bigger sponsorship package to bring to an IndyCar team. Reports of his signing then came out on Monday.

Veach returns to Andretti Autosport, a team where he raced in all three rungs of the MRTI ladder, first in USF2000, then Pro Mazda, and then Indy Lights from 2010 through 2014. He won his first three races in Indy Lights with Andretti in 2014, when he finished a career-best third in points. Upon returning to Indy Lights after a year’s hiatus in 2016, Veach won three more races with Belardi Auto Racing in the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda and finished fourth in points.

As noted earlier, this year he made two IndyCar starts, first in an unexpected fill-in role for JR Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber Motorsports Park and then in this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil with A.J. Foyt Enterprises and in the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim entry. Veach overachieved in a weekend of steady improvement at Barber, while had to recover from a practice crash in Indianapolis the rest of that month, before retiring with electrical issues.

The team will again run a fifth car at next year’s Indianapolis 500. Michael Andretti had said several times that after giving up his seat for Fernando Alonso at this year’s ‘500 that an extra car would be earmarked for Stefan Wilson. Whether that would be the fifth car or a sixth car, as the sixth car was for Andretti in partnership with Michael Shank Racing, remains to be seen.

As for Veach, he enters into a great situation to make an immediate impression. Without question it’s a big opportunity for him, stepping into one of the established “big three” teams. He will have a lot to prove in a coveted seat, but that’s part of the appeal.

Bourdais hopes last year’s crash turns into Indy 500 Cinderella story on Sunday

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Sebastien Bourdais has relived his May 20, 2017 crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying over and over in his mind, day after day, week after week and month after month.

He would think of the worst crash of his open-wheel racing career at least once — if not several times — a day, particularly when he’d experience a slight twinge of pain.

“I think about it every day,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk. “Even though I’m functionally 100 percent now, it’s still very rare that during the day that there’s not a little pinch or something that reminds me of what happened.”

But this past weekend while qualifying for this year’s 500, one year later, the French driver said he was finally able to work past the mental roadblock that just would not leave his mind.

The solution was simple: complete the task he wasn’t able to do so last year, namely, qualifying for the race – and qualifying well.

Bourdais will start fifth in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, in the middle of Row 2.

“(Last year’s crash is) still in my mind,” Bourdais said. “But I think the biggest hurdle, at least mentally, was qualifying last weekend, putting yourself back in the same set of circumstances, going back on the line there.

“It felt a little bit the same, chances of rain, some rain, delays, you get back in line, conditions change, everything gets harder because it gets hotter, but that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome. After that, it’s back to business.”

Bourdais has already won once in 2018 – the season-opening race in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.

It helped jump start him to a strong overall run in the first five races of the season, including a fourth-place showing two weeks ago at the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, coupled with entering the 500 third in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

Now, he wants to win the biggest race of his career. If he does so, he’ll feel as if he finally and completely has come full circle from last year’s devastating wreck that shattered his pelvis, going head-on into the Turn 2 wall at a reported 228 mph.

“Well, it’s the Holy Grail of IndyCar, it doesn’t really get any bigger than that,” Bourdais said of the 500. “It’s the biggest achievement that you can accomplish in IndyCar.

“I don’t think I’m any different than anybody else: we all want to win it pretty bad, but I’m sure after what happened after last year, it’d be a Cinderella story.”

But there’s a caveat to Bourdais writing that story: “There’s 32 other drivers that want to accomplish the same thing, and it’s a one day event. We’ll give it our best shot … you can only give your very best and see what happens on that given day.”

Bourdais has a lot going for him heading into Sunday. First off, he’ll start from the highest qualifying position he’s ever had in what will be the seventh Indy 500 of the 39-year-old’s racing career.

Second, his confidence and comfort level are higher than they’ve ever been coming into the annual classic at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval.

Third, he’s forgiven himself – not IMS – for what happened last year. He has no ill feeling towards the racetrack, nor does he seek revenge. If he were to start thinking that way, it would serve no positive purpose.

“No. I’m not really that way,” he said when asked if he wants revenge over the racetrack. “The track didn’t beat me up, I beat myself.

“The bottom line is there were a couple of reasons why it happened, but I got more comfortable and more confident and confidence and comfort at some point just bite you at Indy.

“You just do your laps, you get into such a rhythm and the week had gone perfectly with an awesome car and there was not a doubt in my mind it was going to stick (going into Turn 2), and that’s when it happened – and I paid the price.”

So, Bourdais is simply going to go out and race, again, hoping to complete what he started last year before being so painfully derailed.

His best finish to date in the 500 has been seventh (2014). He just needs for his Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser – Sullivan Honda to finish six places higher on Sunday.

And if he does, his move to Dale Coyne Racing last year – he’s competed in 13 of 23 races with two wins, 3 podiums and one pole – would only serve to make what already has proven to be a great move into a potentially brilliant move.

Because, yes, Bourdais isn’t just thinking Indy 500 win, he’s also thinking of a potential championship this season.

“I sure hope so,” Bourdais said when asked if his team’s success will continue. “I like to say it’s (the success that the Coyne camp has had since he came there) a little bit of my baby, bringing in Craig (engineer Craig Hampson) and Olivier (race engineer Olivier Boisson) and reinforcing the existing crew.”

Bourdais is no stranger to winning championships. He won four straight combined titles in CART and the Champ Car World Series from 2004 through 2007 (he also won 28 races in that four-year span).

“Obviously, it’s one thing to get into a winning team and basically meet expectations,” Bourdais said. “It’s another thing to try and build something and change the status of the underdog and turn him into a contender week in and week out.

“We got a glimpse of that last year, and this year, we’ve been competitive every weekend so far, and that’s a great feeling. Once you’re able to be competitive on street course, road courses, short ovals and superspeedways, then you can start saying and thinking championship.”

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