Colton Herta’s hauler catches fire on way to St. Pete; car escapes damage

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The hauler carrying the No. 88 Dallara-Honda of Colton Herta to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg caught fire early Wednesday morning.

A spokesperson for the team confirmed the incident happened less than 10 miles from reaching the race course. Andretti Autosport used its other transporters to move the pit equipment and car to the racetrack where it would undergo further evaluation.

As of Wednesday at 9:35 a.m., Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport’s evaluation at the track found the car had only minor and cosmetic damage that was caused by heat, smoke and water.

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“We have no current reason to believe that any competition or mechanical aspects of the 88 car have been damaged or compromised,” the team said in an email Wednesday to NBCSports.com. “Our Indy Lights team is already in Florida for testing and is now en route to St. Pete to help evaluate and assess. Additionally, we are sending a team of IndyCar crew members from Indianapolis to St. Pete today in advance of the team’s full arrival (Thursday).

“We are also preparing backup pit equipment at the Indy race shop. This equipment and a spare transporter will depart Indianapolis today as well.”

WFTS reported the fire happened on I-275 in St. Petersburg. WFLA reported no one was injured in the fire. Several southbound lanes of the highway were shut down for more than hour as the flames were doused.

Herta, 19, had an outstanding rookie season in 2019, notching two victories (including the season finale) and becoming the youngest winner in series history.

In a tweet posted Wednesday morning, Andretti Autosport confirmed that no one was harmed, thanking its transporter drivers and local first responders

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.