Photo courtesy of IMSA

The 2017 edition of Petit Le Mans enters the final two hours

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BRASELTON, Ga. – A few more incidents peppered the fifth through eighth hours of Motul Petit Le Mans, the season finale for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup (first five hours linked here).

RESULTS: Hour 5, Hour 6, Hour 7, Hour 8 (by class and overall)

The top six cars in Prototype were within one lap at the eight-hour mark, but the complexion of the race changed again just before the clock hit that number when the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 stopped on course in Turn 1. That brought out the 12th full course caution of the race.

The Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis will see Pipo Derani (No. 22) and Brendon Hartley (No. 2) finish the race, while Team Penske will deploy Juan Pablo Montoya in its No. 6 Oreca 07 Gibson to the finish. At the moment, Ryan Dalziel is staying in the No. 2 car. Action Express Racing installs Joao Barbosa in its No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Most of the leaders were in just after the eight-hour mark for a likely second-to-last stop.

There were a few incidents in this stanza. Contact between Nick Heidfeld in Rebellion Racing’s Oreca and Kyle Masson in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 in the Esses cost the Performance Tech team nearly 20 laps, and very likely has ended its hopes of a perfect season in Prototype Challenge. The contact also spoiled Rebellion’s win hopes, and a particularly impressive drive from Heidfeld’s teammate Gustavo Menezes.

Bad luck struck the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 too, with contact between former KIA Pirelli World Challenge teammates Nic Jonsson (in No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Mark Wilkins sending Wilkins hard into the tire barriers and out of the race.

A second incident of contact between the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson and one of the Nissan Onroak DPis, the No. 22 car, saw the JDC-Miller car lose its rear wing, hit by the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. Stevenson endured a nightmare team finale with various mechanical issues, Andrew Davis stopping on track in Turn 1 and needing to reverse, and then this contact.

The No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson is fighting through alternator issues as well.

NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell pulled off the likely save of the race, completing a 360-degree pirouette in his No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS on the front straight.

“Man that was, hero to zero to hero. I thought I had my turn in right. And I had it wrong,” Bell told IMSA Radio. “I got the right front on the curb and the grass. I was hanging on with oversteer, like mad, and it got away from me. I looked left and right. I did a ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and prayed.”

Just after the eight-hour mark, a nasty accident occurred as Robert Alon lost control of his No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 and crashed heavily into the tire barriers at Turn 12. That put the race under its 13th full course caution.

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.