IndyCar

Takuma Sato hopes Road America provides a favorable turnabout

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It is amazing what one race can do for a driver. At least, that is what Takuma Sato hopes will happen after his fourth-place run at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

After all, 2017’s Road America race proved to be a turning point in his season.

“We had a fast car,” Sato said after the race. “It’s a shame that we missed the podium, but we need to find a little more speed.”

It is the kind of thing said after pretty much any race, but this time his podium near-miss could be a precursor of better results on the horizon.

Coming on the heels of a seventh-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, this is Sato’s best back-to-back pairing all season. He had consecutive top-10s at Barber Motorsports Park and in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix, but those were an eighth and 10th respectively. Sato has one other top-five for the season, but his fifth at the Raceway at Belle Isle was bracketed by an accident in the Indy 500 and a 17th in the second Belle Isle race.

Last year’s turnabout was not favorable. Road America marked only the third time that he finished outside the top 15 and the juxtaposition of his 19th in 2017 to his fourth this year adds to the feeling of success this time around.

“We struggled at the beginning of the season and lost too much ground, but Graham (Rahal) and I are working close with the engineering side and shared a lot of stuff and picked up speed,” Sato said.

Through the first eight races of 2018 compared to 2017, Sato had an average finish of 14.5 versus 9.1. With his current back-to-back top-10s credited to 2018, the average shrinks to 12.7 versus 10.2. And if one mentally subtracts his Indy 500 crash, Sato’s 2018 average of 10.6 is virtually the same this year as last.

Last year, Sato was fourth in the points standings at this juncture. In 2018, he languishes in 13th.

Sato needs to guard against what happened in 2017 in the final stretch. His 19th-place finish at Road America was one of six times that he finished outside the top 15 in the closing eight races. Two of these (an accident at Gateway Motorsports Park and an engine failure at Sonoma Raceway) were DNFs.

The end to his season was made even more frustrating by the fact that he qualified 10th or better in all but one of the final eight races – including a pole at Pocono Raceway.

Based on his qualification results, Sato found the speed he was looking for in 2017.

Now, he needs some good fortune to go with it.

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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.