MONTEREY, Calif. – The champagne shower from a victory celebration just finished for Zach Veach, after winning the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca he had the chance to look back on the journey as he hopes to move on to the Verizon IndyCar Series next season.
The 21-year-old Ohio native scored three wins and eight podiums, while also remaining a contender for the title and $1 million Mazda scholarship that guarantees at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races next year, including the 101st Indianapolis 500, until the penultimate race of the ‘Soul Red Finale’ doubleheader.
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Perhaps the final start of his Mazda Road to Indy career, Veach powered from fourth on the grid to the lead and pulled away in walk-off fashion on his way to collect the checkered flag. However, the driver No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing Mazda had to endure the disadvantage of zero radio communications from his crew before ever taking the green.
“I ended up pulling out one of my earbud cords getting into the race car, so the entire race I had no radio,” Veach said. “My guys had no way to communicate to me, but I could communicate to them.
“I did that entire race just myself - no help, no nothing. I had to manage the gap and countdown the laps all in my head. To be able to do that, it was a lot to have on me.”
Despite not being in contention for the championship there was still plenty to fight for on Sunday. The six-time Indy Lights winner wanted to end the season on a high note and give his team the result they deserved.
“First and foremost, I’m just thankful to be able to live the life that I do,” Veach said. “You know, Belardi Auto Racing took a chance on me because I didn’t have the funding for a full season of Indy Lights. They made things possible for me to be able to be driving this year and it almost brings me to tears with how happy I am with the past couple of weeks.”
After being a championship challenger during the 2014 Indy Lights season with Andretti Autosport, Veach was looking for bigger and better things. However, a wrist injury sidelined him for all of 2015. The long road back and with eyes forward to next year already, the race winner took a moment to reflect back on the journey and how this year was all about “proving” to himself that he is back.
“I’ve kind of been the underdog my entire career,” Veach said. “I was in the shadows of guys like Sage Karam and Spencer Pigot – so I always had good people to learn off of and every year we kept closing the gap. I kept busting my ass to do what I needed to improve as a driver. I feel like things are finally starting to come together for me.
“You know, to be able to try and go to IndyCar in 2015 and have to sit on the sidelines with a broken wrist, I was really worried I wasn’t going to ever get an opportunity in a racecar again. So to be able to come out this year and show what we did I’m just very thankful to prove what I proved in 2014 and mainly prove it to myself that it wasn’t a fluke.”
Last week Veach had a chance to test an Indy car for Ed Carpenter Racing at Sonoma Raceway, and now that the season is over for him the goal is to do everything possible to land a seat at North America’s top open wheel series.
“If we can get the budget together, I believe that we have some IndyCar teams that would love to have me,” Veach said. “So that’s the main thing this winter, we just got to get the funding together to move up. We keep having the same thing (happen) were we meet people and they want to help us, but they’re not in a position to and they say someone else is going to. We just haven’t found that perfect sponsorship yet.”
The finale blockade of financial support remaining, he remained optimistic about his chances.
“I’d say it (likelihood of being in IndyCar) is pretty small right now, because we just started on it, but I’m an optimist so I’ll say 25 percent,” Veach said. The funding is the thing. We have teams that we can work with. I think we’ve proved ourselves, but we just need to find sponsorship. That’s the thing: we’re on the search find money to help get me into IndyCar.”