Allsport

IndyCar heading to Laguna Seca?

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TORONTO – The Verizon IndyCar Series is closing in on a new road course home in northern California for 2019.

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors will meet Tuesday to vote on approving a three-year contract to bring IndyCar to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the 11-turn, 2.238-mile track that played host to the CART series for more than 20 years.

According to a proposed agreement posted to the Monterey County website, the series would race from 2019-21 at the circuit at a date to be determined (the contract stipulates “IndyCar will exercise reasonable efforts to schedule future events during the same weekend as the 2019 event”).

The sanction fee, payable in three installments annually, will be $1.2 million for the first year and $1.5 million in each of the following two seasons.

A report for recommendation prepared by Lavonne Chin, the county’s special events manager, states that financing for the event (including the fees) will be achieved through sponsorship, concession and ticket sales.

The track apparently would replace Sonoma Raceway on the 2019 schedule. In a statement Friday, Sonoma president Steve Page indicated his track wasn’t interested in remaining on the schedule if Laguna Seca was added.

Sonoma has played host to IndyCar since 2005; the Sept. 16 race will mark its fourth consecutive season as the series’ season finale.

Laguna Seca was on the CART schedule from 1983-2003 and then shifted to the Champ Car Series for the 2004 race. After a four-year absence, it was scheduled to return in 2008, but its race was scrubbed when Champ Car merged with IndyCar.

The track, which also has hosted sports cars, currently has motorcycle races as its major events. It is managed in a joint agreement between the Monterey County administrative office and the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula.

IndyCar’s agreement calls for major upgrades to be completed at least two months ahead of the 2019 race, including improved curbing, tire barriers and additional timing loops and debris fencing.

One of the most famous passes in CART history occurred in the track’s corkscrew section when Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Zanardi went off course to snatch the lead from Bryan Herta on the final lap to win the 1996 season finale.

The news of Laguna Seca’s possible return took series points leader Scott Dixon by surprise after he led both practices Friday on the streets of Toronto. In CART, Dixon finished fourth at Laguna Seca in 2001 and sixth in ’02.

“Wow, that’s interesting,” said Dixon, who also won there in Indy Lights in 2000. “It’s quite a small track.”

Said Takuma Sato: “I never raced Laguna Seca, so we’ll find out. I would love to go there.”

Click here to see the three-year agreement with IndyCar that could be approved by Monterey County next week.

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.