Given his extensive Mazda Road to Indy resume and his start at last year’s Indianapolis 500, Zach Veach is hardly unfamiliar with tracks that feature solely left turns.
The Ohio native steps up to full-time Verizon IndyCar Series competition for 2018 with the largest team in the paddock after a 2017 season that included his series debut at Barber Motorsports Park with Ed Carpenter Racing and his first Indy 500 appearance courtesy of AJ Foyt Racing.
Having been issued his big break into IndyCar at long last, the long road to North America’s premier open-wheel championship has ended for Veach. But recent testing, highlighted by this weekend’s open test at ISM Raceway, has marked the beginning of the real work for Andretti Autosport’s newest pilot.
Testing set aside for rookies on Thursday, Feb. 8 at the 1-mile Phoenix oval saw Veach check the third of IndyCar’s four distinct track types off his “been there, done that” list: short ovals. Veach’s first 59 trips around an oval other than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway included a 179.592 mph lap that placed him fifth among six short oval rookies.
Despite its similarities to the Dallara IL-15 that he drove to fourth in the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires points standings, the debuting universal aero kit has positioned itself as a fast, minimally predictable challenge for Veach.
“Like I was telling my engineer, confidence level is 60 percent right now,” Veach admitted after Friday’s running.
“It’s quite a bit faster than the Lights car. It honestly feels like the Lights car’s balance around Phoenix. It’s predictable in some ways. Still, I don’t know where that line is exactly of where it’s going to step out too much yet. We’re taking our time working up to it.”
As their new teammate builds confidence with every passing lap, Andretti drivers Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay are tasked with communicating specific feedback to engineers. The team is not at a data deficit to its largest competitors, however, given the reduction to three and two cars for Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, respectively.
“These guys have been doing all of the work, mainly,” Veach said of his veteran teammates. “I’m just kind of giving feedback on the little things that I can right now.”
When asked what he might want to tell his three American teammates, the 24-year-old had a simple ask: “Slow down.”
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, set for March 9–11, will mark Veach’s first race with Andretti since the finale weekend of the 2014 Indy Lights season and his first time pedaling an Indy car around a street circuit.