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MRTI: pre-season testing Day 1 notebook

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Preparations for the 2018 season of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires kicks off this weekend, with all three series – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – taking part in pre-season testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Indy Lights was the first to take to the track, doing so on Friday on the 1.5-mile oval. Below are highlights from the first day of testing.

  • Six Indy Lights drivers turned laps – four from Andretti Autosport (Ryan Norman, Dalton Kellett, Pato O’Ward, and Colton Herta, with Herta in the effort from Andretti Steinbrenner Racing) and two from Juncos Racing (Victor Franzoni and Alfonso Celis Jr.).
  • Ryan Norman turned the quickest lap of the day, at 187.170 mph.
  • Victor Franzoni, last year’s Pro Mazda champion, made his debut in the Soul Red livery, signifying he is the reigning champion from the preceding series in the ladder system and a recipient of a Mazda Motorsports scholarship. “It’s a huge honor,” Franzoni said of carrying the Mazda colors. “Representing Mazda will be one of the best things of 2018, for sure. I don’t think the pressure will increase because my pressure is to win the championship in any color, but I’m excited about what I will learn representing a big brand like Mazda and hoping to do a great job inside and outside the track.” Franzoni had the fifth quickest lap, at 183.379 mph.
  • Juncos Racing confirmed Alfonso Celis Jr. as their second driver earlier on Friday morning, with the Homestead test providing Celis Jr. an immediate chance to get acquainted with the Dallara IL-15 chassis. Celis Jr. contested the World Series Formula V8 championship, where he was a pole winner and race winner in 2017 on his way to third in the championship standings.
  • Although Pro Mazda and USF2000 did not run on Friday, some news did emerge ahead of testing in the form team confirmations for the remaining “Soul Red” Mazda scholarship drivers. Oliver Askew, last year’s USF2000 champion, will contest the 2018 Pro Mazda season with Cape Motorsports, the same team with whom he won the USF2000 title. In USF2000, Keith Donegan, winner of the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, joins ArmsUp Motorsports for the 2018 season.

Testing continues on Saturday with Pro Mazda and USF2000 hitting the track on the 2.21-mile road course.

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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.