After his first day of testing for the Andretti Autosport-Honda team, IndyCar rookie Zach Veach says the 2018 car suits his style and has also given him no physical problems around Sebring’s short course.
Veach, who scored six wins in his last two seasons of Indy Lights, made his IndyCar race debut as a late substitute for the injured JR Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing in Barber Motorsports Park last year, and this was followed by an entry in a third AJ Foyt Racing car in the Indianapolis 500.
However, yesterday marked Veach’s first test in the 2018-aerokit-equipped car, as he joins Andretti Autosport as replacement for Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. The 23-year-old from Stockdale, Ohio said he was not only satisfied with his first day but also encouraged by the new car’s handling characteristics.
He told Motorsport.com: “As a first day of learning, I think it was great for us. We didn’t really get to run until after lunch because of rain in the morning. And I’d say everyone’s at nine-tenths because there aren’t spares available for the new bodywork yet.
“But already you can tell the handling is very similar to an Indy Lights car. It’s very free on corner entry and you get used to sawing at the wheel every time you turn in, and I think this car is going to be like that. At the moment we’ve got it set up with quite a secure rear end, because I’m a rookie trying to get miles. But a couple of times on new tires – we had three sets – we freed it up and you chase the rear into the corner like the Lights car, but your apex speeds are so much higher in these cars, it certainly wakes you up!”
Despite his rookie status and limited track time on his first day, Veach said that the team had quickly gotten him onto a program of learning how different settings affected the handling of the car.
“We had to, because that’s a big part of the immersion into IndyCar,” he observed. “In Indy Lights, you have a decent amount of changes available to you but eventually you just have to drive what you’ve got. In IndyCar, you have a much bigger range of options to fine-tune it, and you’re also surrounded by people with a lot of experience.
“Sitting in an engineering room and being able to listen to what Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alex Rossi or Marco Andretti has to say, and you’re in constant listening mode. I have three great teammates to lean on while I’m still working on myself, and I’ll provide feedback where I can, but at this point, it’s about taking on board everything I can from everyone – Garrett Mothersead my race engineer, Rob Edwards [team COO] and all my teammates. Any time someone talks, there’s something there that can help me.”
Veach, who is short and of slender build, has been working hard in the offseason to build up his muscle strength, and says the work has paid off, while the cars’ reduced downforce have also worked in his favor.
“Physically, this car is a lot easier to drive compared with the 2017 car,” he said. “It’s night and day to compare the new car at Sebring with last year’s car around Barber [a high-grip surface]. As I said, we didn’t do a full day – I probably did 55-60 laps between 1pm and 5pm – but the neck’s not sore at all. The upper body isn’t fatigued but you can tell I did something today. But the strength’s there – now it’s just racecar conditioning, and that can only come with cockpit time, because there are some forces or directional changes which a gym can’t totally simulate.
“Mentally, it felt fast at first. It was like being shot out of a cannon, actually, because it’s 160-something days since I was last in an IndyCar. But then 10 laps later everything’s slowing down for you and it’s no big deal.”
Veach is continuing testing with his teammates at Sebring today. The livery of his car – sponsored by the firm Group One Thousand One – is expected to be unveiled ahead of testing at Sebring on January 24.