Oreca 07 Gibson at Monterey. Photo: Getty Images

Team Penske enters Petit Le Mans following months of buildup

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Team Penske will make its return to sports car racing in Motul Petit Le Mans next week, as the trio of Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud will be in action in a one-off Oreca 07 Gibson.

The run in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale comes as preparation and following months of discussion ahead of the team’s full-time bow next year with its Acura ARX-05 DPi. That car has tested so far but was not going to be the one utilized next week.

This will be Penske’s first sports car race since its GRAND-AM Rolex Series season in 2009, and the team last ran Petit Le Mans in 2008.

BRASELTON, GA – OCTOBER 04: Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves (C) drivers the #5 LMP2 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder celebrate with second place team mates Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas (L) and third place Sascha Maassen, Emmanuel Collard and Patrick Long (R) after winning the LMP2 Class during the American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans on October 4, 2008 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Somewhat surprisingly this will be Montoya’s Petit Le Mans debut, while Castroneves is a past winner in a Penske Porsche RS Spyder in 2008 (above) and Pagenaud has a wealth of experience in the race in Acura and HPD prototypes, and raced last year with Whelen Engineering Racing and co-drivers Dane Cameron and Eric Curran in the Action Express Racing team’s Corvette DP.

This run comes after Castroneves sustained an accident last week in testing at Road Atlanta, and meant the team’s chassis got rebuilt.

“We’ve had this race on our radar for some time, but we wanted to wait until we were able to get our drivers some testing at Road Atlanta prior to committing, as it is a very fast track and these cars are very different to drive from an IndyCar,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric.

“Unfortunately, we confirmed this the hard way as we have had to totally rebuild our car after an incident during testing last week.  ORECA have bent over backwards to be sure we receive everything we need as they understand the importance of this race as our team prepares for the debut of our Acura ARX-05s at the Daytona 24.

“Juan has participated in the majority of our prototype tests since we announced him as one of our full-time Acura drivers. We would also like to involve our other drivers in the program whenever possible.  Helio and Simon have good experience in prototypes at Road Atlanta, so they seem like a natural fit to participate in the Petit for us.”

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.