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Honda’s 5 IndyCar teams return in 2018; capacity to add more in doubt

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SONOMA, Calif. – Both Andretti Autosport and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have announced recent extensions with Honda in multi-year agreements in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The other three Honda teams – Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing – will also be with the manufacturer into 2018 as well, confirming all five teams stay as is next season.

Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr told NBC Sports that while all these teams are confirmed for 2018, their contracts are staggered so that not all teams come up for renewal at the same time.

“Our team lineup is set for next year, so we are keeping the same five teams that we have this year with the latest announcement with Andretti Autosport at Watkins Glen announced that we re-signed them,” St. Cyr told reporters at a media availability Friday at Sonoma.

“So we still have the same five teams with Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“Driver lineup might be a little bit different, but having those teams set right now gives us a chance to really put our plan in place early on to make sure that the off‑season testing will go well, especially with this new universal aero kit, make sure that the information that we can provide for the teams gives them a good foundation for them to launch off next year. Hopefully next year will be even more successful.”

However, what is an interesting thing to note is how many cars those five teams can field.

Combined this year, it was 13 full-time cars – and Andretti, Coyne, RLL and SPM combined to add five extra cars for the Indianapolis 500 for 18 Honda cars. The extra entries were Fernando Alonso and Jack Harvey (Andretti, with other team support from McLaren and Michael Shank Racing), Pippa Mann (Coyne), Oriol Servia (RLL) and Jay Howard (SPM, with Team One Cure).

St. Cyr said the 13-car number is actually two more than its preferable capacity of 11 cars. In 2018, Andretti will field four cars, with the other four teams set to field at least two, and if at least one of them becomes possible to add a third car, that would make 13 again.

“It’s not a simple answer, quite frankly,” St. Cyr explained. “Our capacity, the way that we’re staffed is really for 11 cars. That’s our capacity at HPD.

“Now, obviously we can extend that given the circumstances that we have. We would prefer not to. Quite frankly this year 13 cars really stretched our capability. We wouldn’t be looking to add to that number short‑term. Obviously it’s a physical limitation of our engine build shop just to try to get enough engines through that shop. I mean, as it is right now, we still building Indy engines I think in February, so it becomes a little bit problematic in terms of building enough supply to do that stuff.

“To answer your question about whether we have the capacity or the willingness, we always want to ‑‑ we want this series to grow, so we want more teams, but that’s quite frankly one of the reasons we encourage looking for other manufacturers is to kind of help with that car count, and 13 is really kind of our practical limit that we have right now, so we’re not really looking to expand above that number.”

Andretti Autosport, which has all four of its cars done for the all-American quartet of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach, is now less inclined to add a fifth car full-time in 2018. Andretti told selected reporters Friday at Sonoma that unless something was to get done in the next couple weeks, that option is highly unlikely.

Still, Andretti expects to have at least five, and potentially six cars in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 – as he did this year with the extra cars run in tandem with McLaren and Michael Shank Racing.

Juncos Racing and Harding Racing both made their Indianapolis 500 debuts this year with Chevrolet, and provided either or both increases their programs beyond their limited entries this year, they’d do so with Chevrolet.

Jim Campbell, vice president, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, Chevrolet, told NBC Sports at Watkins Glen that Chevrolet has the ability to extend its capacity to double digit cars in 2018, if necessary. This year, Chevrolet has only had eight full-time cars, four from Team Penske and two apiece from Ed Carpenter Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Carlin, which has not announced a step-up to IndyCar but has been heavily rumored to do so over the last few months, would then be a potential Chevrolet candidate as well given the potential capacity issues at Honda.

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.