Zach Veach will race in his first full season this year at Andretti Autosport after competing in just two races last season. His first IndyCar experience was the GP of Alabama where he was a replacement driver on short notice after Hildebrand got injured before the race. Veach also had a chance to run at the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti where he finished 26th after retiring because of a mechanical failure. Although his first two outings in the series weren't what he would have hoped for, Veach showed promise in Alabama and it resulted in a full time ride for Andretti in 2018.
At the GP of Alabama, Veach finished where he started in 19th place. While this isn't a good result, he did show those watching a few important things that might have helped him land this year's ride. First, with no race experience before Alabama, he managed to stay on the lead lap which is an impressive feat on its own. The second and more important thing is that he showed he can learn the car and how to find speed quickly. His teammate Spencer Pigot was 1.5 seconds faster than him in the first practice of the weekend. By the time qualifying came around, Veach had gotten the gap to his teammate down to just 0.54 seconds. This is still a fairly large gap, yes, but compared to where he started it is a vast improvement.
This is just a one-off example of his ability to learn quickly, but it might have stuck out to some people at Andretti as a positive sign when evaluating Veach for a seat. Veach's experience in Indy Lights is encouraging too, although it isn't spectacular by any means.
In three seasons of Lights racing he had six wins and 18 podiums in 44 races (14% win percentage). His podium performances are impressive, but it is the lack of race wins that makes me concerned about his performance at the next level. Compared to some of the current IndyCar drivers who raced in the Lights series, Veach is lacking in race wins. Carlos Munoz won six of his 24 Lights races (25%), Josef Newgarden won five of his 14 (36%), and Spencer Pigot won six of his 16 (38%). Veach hasn't been able to win many races throughout his three seasons -- or do particularly well in the championship for that matter. His finishes of 7th, 3rd, and 4th are not indicative of someone who will be a top-tier IndyCar driver, especially since the drivers he came behind in the points -- Karam, Chaves, Munoz -- all have been mid to low-tier IndyCar drivers.
Indy Lights History
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Veach isn't a bad pick for Andretti as I think he'll be a top-15 average finisher and maybe even come away with a result or two in the top-10. I see him as a temporary replacement for Sato unless he starts developing quickly in the IndyCar series. He's shown he can learn quickly, but to stay on a team like Andretti he will need to be a driver that can consistently challenge for a top-15 spot at least. His three year contract could give him just the time he needs to develop, but time will tell.
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Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski/IndyCar