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He’s back: Robby Gordon to return to Dakar Rally next month after two-year hiatus

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Robby Gordon is giving himself one heck of a 50th birthday present: he’s returning to compete in the 2019 Dakar Rally after a two-year hiatus.

And he’s doing so in a big way.

Gordon, who turns 50 on January 2, just four days before the Rally kicks off its 10-stage/11-day run in Peru from Jan. 6-17, will field three race trucks in one of the most grueling races in the world.

“The Dakar Rally is excited to welcome back Robby Gordon, the most famous American competitor in its history,” said Rally director Xavier Gavory. “An absolute legend of the Dakar for his aggressive driving style and showmanship, Gordon and Team Speed will be one of the teams to keep an eye on in the 2019 edition.”

This year’s Rally will be significantly different than past editions. It’s been shortened from three-plus weeks and nearly 20 stages to just under two weeks and 10 stages.

And for the first time in Rally history, the entire course will be held in one country.

“100 percent Peru, 100 percent Dakar,” Gavory said.

Since competing in his first Dakar Rally in 2005, Gordon has achieved 17 stage wins and five top-15 overall finishes, including a third-place finish in 2009. His last start was in the 2016 Rally.

He is the first American in Rally history to not only earn a stage win, but also the first to earn an overall podium finish.

Gordon will be reunited with navigator Kellon Walch, who has called the route for Gordon in four previous Rally’s.

“I fully intend to come to Peru to compete for the overall, and there is no better person to have in the right seat than Kellon,” Gordon said in a media release. “The in-car communication and mechanical skills between the both of us over the years allows me to have the trust to concentrate on driving.”

Gordon and Team Speed will compete in Textron XX entries that will be sponsored by Toyo Tires, King Off-Road Racing Shocks and Gordon’s own SPEED Energy Drink. Gordon will compete in his 13th Dakar Rally, joined by first-time Rally competitors Blade Hildebrand and Cole Potts.

Hildebrand, who is coming off his first season in Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks series, will have former six-time Rally motorcycle competitor Jonah Street as his navigator.

“This is a race I’ve followed all my life, and to represent Team SPEED and the USA at the international level, competing against the world’s best off-road racers in the most grueling race known to man – what an honor,” Hildebrand said.

Potts, who also drives in Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks series, will have veteran motorcycle racer Max Eddy as his navigator.

“The opportunity to compete in the Dakar in Peru is an exciting opportunity,” Pitts said. “We are going to be able to tackle some of the world’s toughest sand dunes and witness some beautiful terrain.”

This year’s Dakar Rally, the 41st edition in its storied history, begins January 6 in Lima, Peru, and returns to Lima for its conclusion on January 17. The total distance of the 10-stage event (plus one rest day) will be 2,954 kilometers (1,836 miles).

NBCSN will air daily updates, highlights and interviews starting January 7 at 7 p.m. ET, with a special show about Gordon and his Team SPEED teammates.

Updates on Gordon’s and Team SPEED’s progress during the Rally can be found on Instagram and Facebook, as well as the following websites:

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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.