Askew flanked by Chris Pantani of Cooper Tire, John Doonan of Mazda and Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Oliver Askew’s awesome year of success capped with USF2000 crown

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A surreal year of success has seen Oliver Askew rise from a karting star to a champion on the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, and win three scholarships in the process.

His title in this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda was fueled by early season domination followed by a consistent run-in to the finish of the year, and sees him secure the $325,000 Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship to move into the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires ranks next year.

This title came after Askew won last year’s Team USA Scholarship with fellow Floridian and close friend Kyle Kirkwood, then excelling in the Walter Hayes Trophy and Formula Ford Festival in England thereafter before winning the $200,000 Mazda Motorsports shootout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to move into USF2000.

Not bad for the 20-year-old out of Jupiter, Fla. who is already highly regarded in the IndyCar paddock and who has achieved so much in such a short period of time.

Driving with Cape Motorsports, Askew’s early-season success in USF2000 – a second place followed by five straight wins in St. Petersburg, Barber and the Indianapolis road course – built up his unassailable lead that the rest of the field would spend the summer catching up. He also starred in qualifying, banking a number of pole positions that helped increase his bonus point total.

Thompson, Askew and VeeKay. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Rinus VeeKay came closest, the talented Dutch teenager banking a double win at Road America and leading Pabst Racing’s effort with an incredible year of his own. With three wins and only one result worse than fourth in 14 races – sixth at Indianapolis race one – he was unlucky to have been outscored by just seven points. Parker Thompson of Exclusive Autosport also enjoyed a decent year, but one hamstrung by mechanical issues that hampered his own charge.

Askew did encounter a few moments of adversity throughout the year. His Road America weekend was difficult; he had a crash in Toronto, getting caught up in an incident between leaders Alex Baron and David Malukas; and he lost 10 points for a jumped start in Mid-Ohio. But he persevered in each instance.

“I was kind of expecting something like that to happen throughout the season. We weren’t going to dominate every weekend like Barber and IMS,” Askew told NBC Sports. “We had to keep our heads down. We had another disappointment at Toronto with the crash, and again at Mid-Ohio with a 10-point penalty.

“But we pushed as hard as we could. We started on the back foot this weekend. The Cape Motorsports guys gave me a great car when it counted. Iowa we started so far off, but then we were really on.”

Askew with the Capes and driver coach Jonatan Jorge (gray jacket). Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Considering Askew’s limited car racing experience and the fact the USF2000 series had switched from the venerable Van Diemen chassis to the new Tatuus USF-17 for 2017, it might have been easy to expect the Capes to take a marginal step back this year.

But the Cape setup and cars were just as good with the new car as the old one, and so helped Askew on his way to the title. Additional support came in the form of driver coach Jonatan Jorge, whose JJRD, Inc. tutelage came in handy all season.

“The basics are the same. We used a lot of the data for this year,” he explained. “Especially because now I don’t have a teammate per se in my class. We can compare from years past. I think that hasn’t made too much of a difference. You can see that in the result. Through testing, they ask the right questions and make the right decisions. They have the best cars.”

Askew is expected head to Pro Mazda next year with Cape again, mirroring the path done by Anthony Martin last year. Teams for the scholarship winners aren’t confirmed until Mazda does so, but it’s expected that Askew and Cape won’t mess with a good thing.

He’s also been named as the latest driver to the Rising Star Racing program, a private initiative that supports young American drivers. Askew joins program ambassador Josef Newgarden along with Spencer Pigot and Neil Alberico.

It’ll be hard to top this year for Askew, but now that he’s established himself in the MRTI and within the IndyCar paddock, he’s laid the groundwork for an potentially incredible future ahead.

“Within a year I’ve won three scholarships. It’s something I’d never have dreamed of, but here we are,” he said.

“I look forward to having great success in the future and continuing to learn as much as I can.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

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.