Coming off a fine fourth-place finish at Long Beach and headed into Barber Motorsports Park where he made his series debut last year, Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Zach Veach knows he’s come a long way in a short amount of time.
“I think I was 115 pounds when I did my first race with Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber, and I’m going back there at 130,” the Andretti Autosport pilot told RACER. “Our test there recently wasn’t all that great because of the bad weather and rain, but still, when we were able to go out, my third or fourth timed lap was already better than the best I did in the race last year. It shows you the progress. I can’t wait to see how things go this weekend.”
Veach’s strong run in Long Beach was a perfect encapsulation of the Ohioan’s approach to the sport. He went faster with each session on his first trip to the street course in his Honda Indy car, made the most of a race where contact and penalties took a few front-runners out of contention, and with an opportunity at hand, pushed hard – but not too hard – while chasing the podium and fending off the advances of Graham Rahal.
Smart and measured, the next rookie to cross the finish line was eight places arrears in 12th as Veach used his head and kept his car clear of the drama that broke wings and bent suspensions throughout the 85-lap contest.
“My teammates have been telling me this constantly that if you have a good car, and you’re smart about how you race, you should expect to be inside the top 10, and maybe even the top five if you have a clean run,” he said. “A mistake-free race is hard to do, but that’s something we were able to pull off and it proved everything my teammates have been drilling into me.”
Significant credit was also given to the Andretti Autosport team and Veach’s race engineer, Garrett Mothersead.
“I’m so fortunate to have a truly great team surrounding me as a rookie, which makes my job that much easier to learn in a championship-winning environment,” he added.
“Every rookie isn’t as fortunate as I am. And Garrett is the best; our personalities really clicked, and I have to thank him for being patient with me. He’s working with some impressive drivers, and any time you’re coming in as a rookie, you’re repeating a lot of the same lesson each weekend trying to improve, but sometimes progress is slow.
“And he keeps pushing me along and making things simple for me as I’m trying to build experience. No matter how well we do, he’ll find the one thing we can do better, and I, the same exact way, so that’s helped me a lot as well. I’m excited to see what our combination will be like once I have the experience I need. I think we can be a really strong duo.”
That experience will come as he racks up more Verizon IndyCar Series events, and already – just three races into his rookie campaign – Veach has his postseason goal in place: picture a pint-size Brock Lesnar in fireproof overalls.
“I want to be at 140 pounds at the start of next year,” he said. “If I could add another 10 pounds, I think that would be the ideal. I’m pleasantly surprised with Long Beach and how my muscle endurance and strength worked out. I remember thinking around Lap 60 that my hands ache from holding onto the wheel too tight, but that was it. I was really happy to see how far things have come and how things have turned around since last year.”