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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Veach Proves Past Success was No Fluke

In 2014, Zach Veach was able to run up the front in the Indy Lights Series Presented by Cooper Tires, finishing third in points with three wins and nine podiums. However, the next season came, and he found himself sitting on the outside without a ride. Combined with a wrist injury, he spent the year finding ways to remain relevant off the track.

Though back behind the wheel this season once again in Indy Lights, there’s no denying his talent now as he finished the 2016 season against one of the toughest fields of competitors with a third place points finish with three wins and eight podiums in 18 races.

“For me, a lot of it was proving to myself 2014 wasn’t a fluke,” he told POPULAR OPEN WHEEL. “I felt like as a driver, I developed later in my career than most people do. In 2014, we came on strong to win three races and four poles, and that was my welcoming. It changed a lot of people’s opinions about myself then. As I took 2015 off, I kind of worried that you had those good years – but maybe it was just a good year.

“Then to come back this year in Indy Lights, which I think was more difficult than 2014, to be able to say we led five different races, could’ve won five races, won three – it shows our strength for sure.

It’s worth noting the season didn’t start off smoothly with Belardi Auto Racing as Veach finished 16th in the season opener at St. Petersburg.

“Honestly, I really wish we could go back to the season opener at St. Petersburg,” he said. “We started third and got the lead on the start and led the next 17 laps, and then we had a mechanical failure. I’m confident to say it took away a win from us, so if we could have that weekend back, we would’ve ended up second in the championship.”

From there on, there were some highlights, but yet things weren’t as high as others expected with only three top-fives in the first eight races. However, the second half of the year was like a switch flipped, kicking off with a win at Road America.

“The win at Road America because that’s when our season turned around, and things clicked for us at Belardi Auto Racing,” he said. “Everything started to go in our favor momentum wise. We won Road America, finished third the next day, went to Iowa and led the last 20 laps and finished second there. We really hit our stride there, and Road America gave us that opportunity.”

From there on, Veach won two more times, posting only one finish outside of the top-five in the final nine races with five podium finishes.

Overall, I just wish we had more time,” he said. “We ended up being the driver that scored the most points during the second half of the season at the end. So I feel if we would’ve had more time, we could’ve won the championship. It was tough coming back to Indy Lights after taking a year off and coming in with a brand new car; it took a good half of the season to get comfortable and figure out the characteristics.

“I felt we were at a disadvantage till halfway through and once we got things figured out, I felt like the old Zach Veach was back from 2014. We were able to show our speed and what we’re capable of.”

Ideally, Veach can say he entered the off-season in the perfect way as he won the season finale at Laguna Seca, to go with a win at Watkin’s Glen and a third in the two races before that. It gives him a pretty high stake going into the off-season, where he’s hoping to put the right pieces together to compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017.

“We were lucky to test with Ed Carpenter Racing in their IndyCar at Sonoma,” Veach said. “That was my first taste of an IndyCar and what it was like. Honestly, the best part is once you get to feel what its like when you move up, you definitely want to. So this winter is going to be full of work in trying to get the sponsorship in place to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series. That’s the biggest thing we’re struggling with.”

Veach says he’s been speaking with three or four different teams about a possibility of racing for them, but now it’s about finding the funding he’s required to bring to the table to complete the deal. If everything can come together for Veach, he notes it’d mean a lot as he’d complete a dream he’s had for 17 years now.

“To be able to say I competed in a Verizon IndyCar Series race would take a lot of weight off my shoulders in being able to say I made it and been able to show that we can do it,” he said. “I think that’s a lot of the motivation behind this winter and we’re so close, and you can only be this close for a short time. You need to take advantage of the opportunity when you have it and shine when it’s your moment, and I think 2017 has the opportunity to be our moment. I think we can’t take anything for granted this winter and try anything we can to pull something together.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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By Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.