World Wide Technology Raceway, which next week hosts races of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, will have cars on track testing today and Friday. One of the drivers is a throwback to both series.
Zach Veach, a veteran of 44 Indy Lights races and 47 NTT INDYCAR SERIES, last competed in the latter in 2016. But Friday, he will be back in a single-seater, testing an Indy Lights car to help Force Indy’s Ernie Francis Jr. with his progression.
Francis Jr., 24, is a seven-time Trans-Am Series champion from Davie, Florida, who ranks 11th of the 15 drivers who have competed in Indy Lights this season. He has an average finish of 9.2, with a best finish of seventh in the season-opening race in St. Petersburg.
Veach has been assisting the series rookie for about a month, attending the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend doubleheader at Iowa Speedway and last weekend’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville on either side of an Indy Lights test at Sebring International Raceway when he drove the car for eight laps.
Veach has never raced an Indy Lights car at World Wide Technology Raceway, but he scored one of his three career top-five finishes in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at the track in 2018. He finished fifth for Andretti Autosport.
Veach said the challenge Francis Jr. faces in his first Indy Lights season cannot be understated, which is why the coaching from someone who has figuratively been in his seat is important.
(Coincidentally, the two of them are nearly the same size, so their seats are interchangeable without having to adjust the cockpit and the pedals, a time-saving advantage during a one-day test.)
“I was lucky to go from INDYCAR to IMSA (sports car racing) where the cars get heavier and slow down, so it’s more a process of detuning yourself,” Veach said. “Ernie is going the other direction, and as a driver you’re going beyond your comfort zone. With the downforce and the extra grip you have in these Indy Lights cars, you have to learn when to (be aggressive) and when the car can reward you.”
Francis Jr. will be one of up to a dozen Indy Lights drivers testing Friday at the 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Illinois. The session is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET and run through 7 p.m.
Veach, who in recent weeks has been racing 410 sprint cars in Ohio and a midget in last week’s Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by WeatherTech at The Dirt Track at IMS, is hoping this return to the INDYCAR scene is part of his return to the competition side of the business. His goal is to land a ride for next year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, which would be his fifth start in the oval race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He earned a spot in the field each year from 2017 through 2020.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES testing at World Wide Technology Raceway is today, with drivers Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood of AJ Foyt Racing, David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD, Devlin DeFrancesco of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing and Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan participating. All but Kellett are series rookies. The session runs until 9 p.m. ET.
The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline begins with on-track action Friday, Aug. 19. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES will have practices at 1 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. ET, with qualifying for the NTT P1 Award at 7:15 p.m.
Indy Lights’ first practice will be Friday, Aug. 19 at 3:10 p.m. ET. Qualifying will be at 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 20, Indy Lights will stage its race at 4:15 p.m. ET with the 15th race of the 17-race NTT INDYCAR SERIES season following at 6 p.m. on USA Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is the two-time defending champion of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, and he has won three of the past six events at the track.