By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — In recent years, many stars of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires have had some difficult luck breaking into a full time ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series so many drivers are accepting one-off drives, including Zach Veach.
Veach was given the task of driving the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber Motorsports Park after regular driver JR Hildebrand was on the mend from a broken hand. Veach now is behind the wheel of the No. 40 IWIT Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing and passed his rookie test Tuesday afternoon.
For Veach, it was the second time he was able to get on track in an Indy car after doing but a few laps on Monday. Veach passed his rookie test at 1:03 and reported that surprisingly to many outsiders, the faster you drive, the easier it is.
“The later you get in the stages, the easier it gets,” Veach said.
“You know the hardest phase is that 205-210 mph, because the car’s not making the downforce so it gets kind of jittery on you. But yeah, the 210-215 mph phase is pretty comfortable, just a lot of lifting on the straightaways, flat through the corners and then 215+ is where it starts to get fun because that’s actually when you’re able to be flat around Indy and really get to see what these cars are made of.”
“The coolest feature I think is just how quickly the car gets up to speed. I think leaving pit lane through the warmup lane through Turn 2, you’ll be up to 190 mph before you even get to Turn 3 and in a Lights car it would take a lap and a half to get up to that speed so that’s pretty special.”
The six-time Indy Lights winner gave thanks to the sanctioning body for knowing how difficult maintaining pace can be.
“Luckily INDYCAR knows how difficult the first phase is, so they’re not too demanding on how close you are to that 205-210 mph [window], but they do want you to show some consistency with your line and everything else,” Veach said.
Veach has competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race three times and compared how the Indy car drives compared to the Indy Lights car.
“Indy Lights kind of prepares you for [being consistent] because as soon as you get on track you know exactly where you need to be line wise,” said Veach. “The one thing about the Indy car that I’ve noticed is that let’s say you miss the turn in by half a foot or you gain some understeer in the mid corner, things happen a lot quicker in the Indy car and the Indy Lights car would get understeer and say maybe push up one or two feet.
“When the Indy car gets understeer it pushes up four or five feet so you’re got to be really thinking ahead to stay out of the wall.”
Veach has a bit of an interesting perspective on running Indy Lights on the oval. He’s the only driver to drive the old Indy Lights car on the oval on both Firestone tires (2013) and Cooper tires (2014) and the new Indy Lights car as well in 2016. But how much skill from driving the Indy Lights translates to driving the Indy car?
“The new (Indy Lights) car definitely prepares you a lot more than the old car because it’s more relevant just as far as you can go negative on the rear wing,” said Veach. “You can take a lot of downforce off the new car, whereas we couldn’t with the old car so that gets you used to feeling what a car around here with low downforce is like.”
“You know with us still being early in the week we still have plenty of downforce on this thing and so far it’s been pretty quick. The speeds that we’re doing with the amount of downforce, we’re kind of shocked right now.
“So hopefully that speed stays with us and just increases as we take more and more downforce away.”