Colton Herta delivers Andretti’s first IndyCar victory of season at Mid-Ohio

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Colton Herta became the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series driver to win from the pole position at MId-Ohio Sports Car Course, capping a podium sweep Sunday for Andretti Autosport as the team scored its first victory this season.

Starting first just like Saturday winner Will Power, Herta, 20, led 57 of 75 laps and finished 1.3826 seconds in his No. 88 Dallara-Honda ahead of teammate Alexander Rossi for the third victory of his career.

Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay finished a season-best third, followed by Graham Rahal and Marcus Ericsson.

“I’m so happy, we’ve been knocking on the door almost every week,” Herta told NBC Sports pit reporter James Hinchcliffe. “We’ve had the pace, but for some reason or another, something has gone wrong. We finally put everything together. Got the pole this morning, had a stellar car, and Honda Andretti 1-2-3.”

In the previous 10 races this season, Andretti Autosport had managed only two podium finishes, both third places by Rossi. Sunday’s trio of podium results marked the first 1-2-3 finish for the team in 15 years since a 1-2-3-4 finish in April 2005 at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s so huge,” team owner Michael Andretti told Hinchcliffe after his team’s 65th IndyCar victory. “Man, 1-2-3, after the way things have been going for us this year. This is huge for us, the whole team.”

Said Rossi after his season-best finish: “I’m just so happy for Andretti Autosport and Michael. It’s been a terrible year for us globally. To do this, huge hats off to Colton and the 88 guys but then to sweep the podium is very cool for us.

“The championship went away from us very early on, so we’re just focused on race wins and really trying to build a good foundation for next year, and we’re doing that now. It’s a step in the right direction. We’ll enjoy this one for sure.”

The rest of the top 10: Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon, who nipped Rinus VeeKay on the last lap for 10th.

The championship race tightened after Dixon made a mistake and spun while running fifth on Lap 22.

Trying to chase down Herta while under pressure from Rossi and Hunter-Reay, Dixon clipped a curb off Turn 1 and lost 15 spots.

After entering the weekend with a 96-point lead over Josef Newgarden in the standings with five races remaining, Dixon’s lead shrunk by 24 points after consecutive 10th-place finishes in the Saturday-Sunday doubleheader at Mid-Ohio (which historically had been one of his strongest tracks with a series-high six victories).

“Got a little aggressive, hit the overtake (button) on the exit of (Turn) 1 and just way too much Honda power there, and it spun the tires and just spun the car,” Dixon told NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast. “Totally caught me off guard. Total rookie mistake. I’m so bummed for the team. Such a stupid mistake I shouldn’t have made. Obviously the car was fast and able to fight our way back, but it should have been an easy points day.”

Dixon said he won’t be laying back heading into the final three races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course doubleheader and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“The easiest way is to win Race 1 at Indy road course and same in Race 2 and be nice to go to St. Pete without having to worry about it,” Dixon said. “The series is so tight right now. The competition is super tough. Even trying to rebound off days like this is very tough.”

After a chaotic qualifying session, the first lap of Sunday’s race also proved eventful.

Santino Ferrucci, starting second, received a penalty for avoidable contact after running into Dale Coyne Racing teammate Alex Palou. The crash also collected Felix Rosenqvist.

Ferrucci attempted to pass leader Colton Herta on the outside into Turn 1 but skidded through the grass and then re-entered the track by hitting Palou.

“He was the outside, and I got halfway in front of him, so it was my corner at that point,” Herta said. “I tried to leave him as much room as I could, but he just wanted to stick on the outside, so I had to push him off.”

“I think we just have to look at the video,” said Palou, who is battling for rookie of the year with Rinus VeeKay. “I did a good start. I was just keeping the position I had. It was the first lap. Someone went out and just drove into me and Felix. Nothing we could have done.

“Disappointing because I couldn’t do anything, and it’s the first lap of the race. And we’ve had such a hard season to now with all the ovals and learning those. We’ll just look forward to the Indy GP.”

Ferrucci was sent to the rear of the field.

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.