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Roger Penske unveils record Indy 500 purse, improvements to speedway

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A series of new plans to boost both the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway were unveiled during a press conference at the historic facility Friday afternoon.

The changes are the first to be announced since Roger Penske officially took control of the speedway and NTT IndyCar Series in January.

“This is the Racing Capital of the World,” Penske said. “It is on par with some of the most historic sporting institutions in this nation and across the globe, from Churchill Downs to Augusta National. Today, we’re announcing a meaningful investment in our fan experience that will produce rapid results. It’s part of a long-term plan to ensure the legendary status of the Speedway continues to grow and evolve for generations to come.

“I am very excited about the enhancements to qualifying weekend, the largest-ever ‘500’ purse, new sponsors and the significant investments we are making to the IndyCar Series and to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

The changes include:

A record purse: The event purse for the 104th running of the Indy 500 will be the largest in the history of the event. The purse will grow by $2 million to $15 million, with the winning driver guaranteed a minimum of  $2 million.

Multiple qualifying attempts will return to the Last Row Shootout: The shootout will expand from 60 to 75 minutes. Previous versions of the shootout allowed only one attempt per car. The new format gives teams another opportunity to qualify for the race while preserving the tradition of Bump Day.

“Listening to the fans and looking at the information that flowed to my desk, the fans here, the history here is having a bump day,” Penske said. “I think that that will take place at this year’s Indy 500.”

A boost in turbocharger power: The 45 horsepower increase will allow for higher speeds during Indy 500 qualifying.

Expanded television coverage of qualifying: NBC will cover both Saturday and Sunday of qualifications weekend, with total network exposure increasing over 2019. Full weekend broadcast details will be unveiled at a later date.

New Sponsors: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NTT IndyCar Series will add six new major sponsors in 2020: Pennzoil, Verizon, Snap-on Tools, DEX Imaging, Road & Track magazine, and Global Medical Response.

Technology Upgrades: Over 30 new large-screen video boards will be installed on the grounds of the speedway, including 24 along the paddock seating. All seven of the large infield big screen monitors will also include additions to display the race running order.

Another new addition is the IMS Media Wall. This video board will be 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall and will be displayed at the base of the Pagoda facing the Pagoda Plazza. The wall will display data-driven race insights from NTT for fans.

Additionally, Verizon will expand it’s 5G Ultra Wideband network to make IMS the first motorsports facility with commerical 5G service.

Infrastructure improvements: The 110-year-old facility will receive several upgrades to improve the fan experience. Pedestrian traffic on Georgetown Road will be widened by two lanes to allow easier ingress and egress.

The winning drivers and teams of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 will also be elevated to the same level as the victory podium after each race. This will give fans a better vantage point for pictures.

Additionally, more than 125 restrooms will be renovated inside the facility and over three miles of fencing will be installed.

Beautification upgrades:  Night light signage will be installed over gates 1 and 2, while over 50 concession stands will receive fresh paint. More picnic tables and racing flags will also be installed throughout the grounds.

All aspects of the fan aspect improvements are underway and will be completed before the IMS gates open for the month of May on May 8. The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place on Sunday, 24 and will air live on NBC.

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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.