Veach hopes to capitalize on hot Indy Lights finish

Updated: 

Zach Veach is torn. He’s eager to move on to 2017, but didn’t really want the 2016 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season to end.

The 21-year-old from Stockdale, Ohio, returned to Indy Lights driving for Belardi Auto Racing this past season after a one-year hiatus. A strong run to end the season started with a June win at Road America, followed by victories in two of the final three races – one at Watkins Glen International and the other at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

“Overall, I wish it could have been longer,” Veach said of the season that saw him finish fourth in the Indy Lights standings. “A lot of that comes with we really started to hit our stride at the halfway point on till the end of the year. I believe we scored the most points from the halfway point of the season to the championship finale.

“Once we got to Road America and, from that point on, we really showed the strength that we had and in a way the old Zach Veach was back.”

Veach won three Indy Lights races in 2014 and finished third in the championship for Andretti Autosport, in his second season with the team. He missed the 2015 season recovering from injury, driving the INDYCAR Experience two-seater and attempting to secure a Verizon IndyCar Series ride that never panned out.

Returning to Indy Lights in 2016, the first half of the season was a struggle as he came to grips with a new team and the Dallara IL-15 Mazda package. He also felt the pressure of trying to get good results without initially having a full season confirmed at Belardi.

“I tended to overdrive the car trying to make a statement that I needed to stay in the car,” Veach said. “When a driver is competing in each race for a ride, I think that adds a lot of stress.

“Once we got to the halfway point and I knew that I was going to be in the car for the rest of the season, that gave me a chance to relax and focus on doing what I loved and actually enjoying it again. When I started enjoying it and having fun, that is when we started winning races.”

That excitement level carried over when he tested an Indy car for Ed Carpenter Racing at Sonoma Raceway in September. During the session, Veach logged the quickest laps of any Indy Lights driver.

That strong showing has added to his passion and desire to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017.

“After testing for Ed Carpenter Racing, you get a taste of it and it’s hard to forget about it,” he said. “We’re very busy on just trying to find the funding to move up. Right now it is hard to say if we have something that’s likely to come together, but we’re working every day on it.”

If a Verizon IndyCar Series deal does not come together for 2017, returning to Indy Lights appears the most logical choice for Veach. It would give him another shot at winning the Indy Lights crown and the accompanying $1 million Mazda Road to Indy scholarship that guarantees a spot on the grid for at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races in the following season, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“I feel that if I am still competing up front in Indy Lights and winning races, it’s not a bad place for me to be,” Veach said. “If I can go back and win the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship and move up to INDYCAR, that would be the one last thing I would have to do in Indy Lights. We’ve had poles on ovals, road courses, street courses. We’ve won on ovals, road courses and street courses. The only thing that we haven’t done in Indy Lights is win the championship.”

From the fans