At 17, most young men are trying to decide who to take to prom or what color of car to buy. But Zach Veach has a completely different set of priorities.
Already a published author and accomplished public speaker, the young racer has set his sights on becoming one of the greats in open wheel racing and is following a clearly laid plan to achieve his goals. Having won the 2012 Formula Car Challenge Winter Series and finished strongly in Star Mazda after a slow start to the year, Veach is now set to move up to the Firestone Indy Lights series. Going into his fourth year as a driver with the powerhouse Andretti Autosport team, he sits on the precipice of reaching the IZOD IndyCar Series and competing against some of the best drivers in the game.
Each step up the ladder requires more work and more seat time than the last, however, and Veach was busy achieving both this past Wednesday and Thursday at the 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course at MSR Houston. Veach and teammate Carlos Muñoz were testing Indy Lights cars, while Grand-AM and USF2000 driver Shelby Blackstock was putting in laps in Veach’s Star Mazda car from last year.
Veach was gracious enough to give me a few minutes of his time in between runs, and he detailed his game plan for the coming season.
How does it feel to be running in Indy Lights for the defending Indy Car championship winning team in Andretti Autosport?
“It’s great. Andretti Autosport is definitely one of the teams to beat. I’ve been with these guys for four years, and it’s really turned into a home for me. Ever since I started in F2000, my goal has been to come to Indy Lights and, of course, the IndyCar Series in time. We’re getting there — one step away from the big show right now. I think I’ll probably be here for a couple of years before we think about moving up. We have a lot to learning to do, but I think we will have a pretty successful year.”
Is this your first Indy Lights test with the team?
“Actually, this is already my sixth Indy Lights test so far.”
Have you raced at MSR Houston before today?
“I actually came here back in 2010 in an F2000 car. It’s a little different going around here in a Lights car, but it’s still fun. This place is really physical, though. This is one of the first times that I’ve kind of felt the Lights car and thought I’d better go back and check on my neck a little bit. It’s fun right now, but we’re really working with it. And we’re close to Carlos, we’re learning a lot, and I’m really excited about it.”
Has Carlos been good to work with as a teammate so far?
“For sure. He’s a very serious guy. In a way, I’ve had to do a little catching up to him. It’s really helping me to be a better driver at the end of the day. From a data standpoint he has shown me a lot of ways to drive a Lights car, and that’s been really helpful. My biggest thing right now is just getting the braking down. I’ve never had a car that can brake as good as this one can.”
How different is the driving style between a Lights and Star/Pro Mazda car?
“It’s a bigger difference than it was from F2000 to Star Mazda, but I had some time in an Atlantic car before I ever did F2000. In the two series I did before this I was always kind of over-driving the car because it didn’t have the horsepower or downforce that I wanted, so getting into this thing feels like home. You have to go into the corner as deep as you can and brake as late as you can but still roll as much speed as possible. This car really makes sense to me. We have so much downforce here; we’re trying a lot with the downforce today, so we’re playing that out. It’s amazing what a difference a couple of holes make.”
So you think the Lights car may actually fit your style more than the Star Mazda car?
“For sure. With this thing, I know what to do to get those last couple of tenths out of it. The car is very responsive. The Firestone tires are great, really consistent. They allow you to work on yourself more than anything. I’m really having a good time with the Firestone Indy Lights car and Andretti Autosport.”
You’re running the full season in Lights this year, correct?
“For sure. Definitely looking forward to the ovals! Everybody wants to go to May. I’m excited to turn my first laps on the oval at IMS. It’ll be a long season, and Carlos is a really fast guy and is really setting a high bar for me. I’m learning a lot there and I’m really excited for the season to start.”
Veach and Muñoz both got to make quite a few runs during the day, and the Andretti expertise seemed to be at work as both cars seemed to get successively quicker on each run. Given Veach’s success thus far in his young career, his thoughts that this car fits him better than any he has driven so far should serve as an announcement to the other Indy Lights drivers that he will be one to watch in 2013.
Other notes: Shelby Blackstock also looked very quick during his time in the Star Mazda (now Pro Mazda) car that Veach piloted last year. Set for a full season in Pro Mazda with Andretti, Blackstock also said that he will return to the Continental Tire Series in 2013, piloting a Roush-backed Ford Mustang at Daytona International Speedway.