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IndyCar iRacing newcomers Castroneves, Dixon preview Motegi

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IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge continues this Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with its largest field to date.

Thirty-three cars and drivers are entered in this weekend’s virtual race at Twin Ring Motegi, highlighted by the addition of defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.

Also joining Busch are former Indy 500 winners Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves, both of whom are making their first starts in the virtual series.

ENTRY LISTWho will be racing in round four

In real life, Castroneves is a two-time winner at Motegi, having taken the checkered flag in the 2006 and 2010 editions of the Indy Japan 300.

Despite not being as experienced with virtual racing as some of his competitors, Castroneves looks forward to this weekend’s 113-lap race.

“This opportunity for me is very unique. I’m probably the old-timer here,” Castroneves said during Friday’s IndyCar conference call. “For me to join, the sim that I’m normally used to go was in Charlotte. However when it was myself, Josef, Will, Simon, they were so much faster than me. I wasn’t very much into video games.

“In this situation, I’m excited because we’re not doing anything, so why not try something? Hopefully, the oval is still challenging, don’t get me wrong, but it looks like I’m hustling just like a racecar. Very interesting.”

Scott Dixon is also a two-time winner at Motegi, having won in 2009 and 2011 (though his final victory took place on the track’s 2.983-mile road course as the oval was damaged in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake).

Like Castroneves, Dixon is still learning the ropes of virtual racing. The five-time champion finished 16th in his iRacing Challenge debut at Barber two weeks ago and finished 30th last week in Michigan after being involved in a massive crash at the start of the race.

“Hopefully I’ll make it past the start line this week. Last week was pretty rough,” Dixon said. “So was Alabama. Some of these teams have taken it next level.

“It’s tough. It’s really challenging. I think definitely put into perspective being at home with kids E-learning, then trying to get on a simulator throughout the day when you can, try and keep up the normal training levels that we try to once we get back to proper racing, has been interesting.”

Despite the rough start, Dixon said that he’s still enjoyed the iRacing experience so far.

I’ve found it a lot of fun,” Dixon said. “It’s been a little bit frustrating in some ways because you’re trying to get up to speed and catch up as quickly as possible. Some people have been racing on these things for more than 10 years. Kudos to the IndyCar Series for bringing us online, iRacing as well.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

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.