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Penske ready for Petit Le Mans challenge in sports car return

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As a tune-up ahead of its full-time return in 2018, Team Penske will return to sports car racing at this weekend’s Petit Le Mans, using an Oreca 07 Gibson while they continue to develop the Acura ARX-05 DPi for its 2018 debut.

As the team confirmed last week, Penske stalwarts Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud will share the driving duties in Penske’s first sports car event since 2009, and its first Petit Le Mans since 2008.

Team Penske ran Petit Le Mans with its Porsche RS Spyders three times in 2006, 2007 and 2008 – and won in the LMP2 class all three times.

Their late entry this year comes on the heels of a test with the Oreca chassis, which Team Penske president Tim Cindric explained was needed before the team could commit to an entry.

“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,” Cindric explained.

As noted above, while it has been nearly a decade since they’ve contested the 10-hour enduro, their last appearance was most certainly a memorable one.

Drivers Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, entered in a third Porsche RS Spyder for Penske, claimed victory in the LMP2 class, leading a Penske sweep of the LMP2 podium.

BRASELTON, GA – OCTOBER 04: Helio Castroneves driver of the #5 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder celebrates after winning the LMP2 Class at the American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans on October 4, 2008 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Castroneves highlighted as much when discussing his optimism ahead of the weekend, in the first race of what may well be the beginning of a full-time sports car program with the team.

“The car is a blast to drive as it has lots of power and an incredible amount of downforce. The last time I ran at Petit, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the winning team in our class. It was one of the highlights of my career. Now, I’m looking forward to that challenge again and I’m sure it will be fun racing with these guys in this setting.”

Pagenaud, too, has experienced success at Petit Le Mans, securing an LMP2 class win of his own in 2010 with what was then called Patrón Highcroft Racing. He finished fourth in this race last year with Action Express Racing, sharing the Whelen Engineering Corvette DP with Dane Cameron and Eric Curran.

“It’s a bit of a homecoming to get back into a prototype car,” said Pagenaud of his latest return to sports car racing. “They are great cars to drive and to be paired with Juan and Helio in an endurance event is going to be a lot of fun. This is a chance for me to help Team Penske prepare for next year, while seeing what things we can learn and where we can improve right now.”

Montoya and Dane Cameron have been confirmed for Penske’s Acura DPi program next year, Castroneves was confirmed earlier Wednesday and Ricky Taylor has been strongly linked to the second car as well.

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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.