IndyCar: Zach Veach’s Time is Coming
Robert Wickens set the rookie bar impossibly high. The 29-year-old Schmidt Peterson Motorsports star waltzed into the Verizon IndyCar Series and dazzled from the start. He took the pole at the opener at St. Petersburg, nearly went coast-to-coast for the win and didn’t look back.
Until his terrifying crash at Pocono, Wickens was in the thick of the championship hunt, looking like a shoo-in to finish inside the top five in his debut season. Between his pole win, four podiums and rookie of the year honors and the Indianapolis 500, the series’ other newcomers didn’t stand a chance by comparison.
But Zach Veach wasn’t too interested in making comparisons. After all, Wickens has six years on him and an incredible resume in Europe’s DTM series. He wasn’t a rookie in the same way Veach was. So Veach worried about himself and his own methodical growth. If given the opportunity, he knew he could get up to speed, and over the past month, that’s exactly what he’s done.
And the IndyCar paddock is beginning to take notice.
His name is starting to sit regularly on the tongues of the series’ elite. Ahead of Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park, Will Power told the NBCSN broadcast that no one looked like they had a stronger car that Zach Veach.
Last weekend at Pocono, Alexander Rossi officially put the IndyCar world on notice when he wrapped up his victory news conference with: “Zach Veach will be on pole and winning races pretty soon.”
Veach didn’t buckle under the pressure of such lofty praise. In fact, given a shot at qualifying this weekend, Veach might have cashed in on Rossi’s promise sooner than everyone expected.
On Saturday night, Veach was so good, so quick, he made everyone wonder what might have been. Had Friday’s qualifying session not been rained out, might we have been talking about the first victory of his IndyCar career?
“It’s tough when you’re bust your butt so hard just to get to the top 5 after starting 16th,” Veach told IndyStar after Saturday night’s race. “I think if we would have a chance to qualify, we would have been in the first to seventh range, and we would have an easier night, but that doesn’t make as good of a story.”
He’s not wrong. Outside of the championship battle between Rossi, Scott Dixon and race-winner Will Power, Veach’s meteoric ascent through the field was the story of the night. He blew past six cars at the start, then slowly chipped away at the leaders, eventually climbing to the front of the field.
Veach’s rise took him as high as fourth before he was passed by Simon Pagenaud late and had to settle for fifth, his best finish since a fourth-place run at Long Beach.
For Veach, it all seems to finally be coming together lately. It took some time, he said, but that was always going to be what happened. He’s not the type of driver who can hop in a new car, hit that gas pedal and never look back. His rise was always going to be methodical. He needed time to learn.
“Robbie set the bar way too high for any other rookie,” Veach said with a laugh. “I really can’t wait to have him back.
“But for me, it was sort of a switch that flipped (Toronto) and I’m damn happy that it did. When you step in here as a rookie and you’re competing against guys like Power and Dixon, it’s not intimidating but you definitely feel under pressure to get up to speed, and that was never my style to just jump in an be fast right away. I take little inches and keep learning and get faster and faster. I really feel like we’re coming into our own now. I’m very thankful it’s happening.”
Over the past month or so, Veach has been filled with a quiet confidence that allowed him to go on a mini-tear. The switch, as he calls it, officially flipped for him at Toronto, where he finished seventh. After Toronto, he came in 10th- at Mid-Ohio and sixth at Pocono before his top-five run Saturday.
“That switch was flicking on and off at Texas and Iowa, but I made a few mistakes,” Veach said. “But we had a really good, patient race at Toronto. Mid-Ohio, patient race. Pocono, very patient. And here, it was the right level of aggression and patience, so it’s all falling in line right now.”
Ever-modest, Veach credits his teammates for helping build his confidence. When Rossi was telling anyone who would listen last week how valuable Veach’s Pocono test was to the team, it meant the world to Veach. It meant that he has the respect of teammates, drivers who are among the best and most experienced in the paddock.
“I’m not going to lie, there were a couple nights I was laying in bed (before Pocono), where I was like, man, ‘I hope the teammates think this is a good car,’ ” Veach chuckled. “So when we showed up, and everyone was fast right away, it made me feel confident in myself, that one, I can set up a really good race car, and two, my teammates trust me. We trust each other, and that goes such a long way.”
“It’s fun getting the cars good together. It’s fun getting out here and racing with each other. I think at the end of the day, that’s what makes this team so good. We’re all just having fun. We’re all just playing race car every weekend and it’s going well for us.”