Zach Veach’s year of big expectations


Zach Veach made down payment on the high expectations riding on his narrow shoulders at Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The nineteen-year-old led the Indy Lights race flag to flag in dominating fashion, his first win in over two years of moving up the Mazda Road to Indy. I watch the ladder series fairly closely, and so I’ve been following Veach’s career for the last four or five years. While he’s been the best American since Charlie Kimball at securing sponsorship he’s been in the shadow of his teammates.

Zach Veach and his father share a moment before the Legacy Indy Lights 100 April 7, 2013. Photo by Matt Schafer

Veach has had the fortune, good or bad I don’t know, to be paired with Sage Karam – who some fans consider the second coming of Jeff Gordon – and later Carlos Munoz who stole the show at the Indy 500 last year. While his teammates have tallied an impressive amounts of wins. Munoz started last season with a massive points lead that Karam chipped away en route to the Indy Lights crown last year – Veach’s best finish was a third at Milwaukee.

Before St. Pete most of Veach’s successes have come off the race track, he’s written a book, an app and has appeared on CNN and successfully found sponsors to partner with. While he’s not as quirky or outgoing as Josef Newgarden or James Hinchcliffe he reminds me a lot of those two in how he’s gone about building a platform for himself. That said, the bar should be put very high for him this year.

He’s the only driver in the series to return with the same car and team they had last year. Veach has more race miles and more testing miles than anyone else in the series, and so expectations of a championship is not out of line, despite the fact he’s only 19. There’s a limited time for a young driver to go from rising star to a sustained career, and it sounds like Veach knows that it’s going to take more people invested in his career to move forward.

In a blog he wrote for Veach said he’s packed on 15 pounds of muscle onto his frame, and has changed the way he approaches races.

"With all that we learned, I went into St. Pete with a different attitude and mindset than I normally would. All last season I thought, “I’d like to win, or hopefully we’ll see what happens.” This year I said, “We are going to win… we’re not here for anything else.” As soon as I believed that I could, it all became simple and less stressful."

While this is the best start possible he still has a lot of work to do. He’s once again teamed with a prolific rising star in Matthew Brabham. Brabham, grandson of F-1 legend Sir Jack Brabham, son of Le Mans winner Geoff Brabham Matthew has dominated championships in USF-2000 and Pro Mazda as he moved up the ladder in a one-and-done fashion. If he wants to advance he’s going to have to establish himself as the lead driver at Andretti, and do something no driver has ever done before, beat Brabham.

Brabham isn’t the only threat in the Indy Lights field, which is larger, and arguably deeper than last years’. Gabby Chaves returns from last year, and should benefit from extra seat time from his role as a factory driver for the Delta Wing IMSA team. Jack Harvey is a McLaren development driver and has won races in GP3. Brazilian Luiz Raza has three GP3 wins to his credit and experience as a Formula One test driver. Alex Baron is a French Formula Ford champion and has been quick in testing.

It’s not going to be an easy walk to the championship for Veach when there are five or six solid drivers, most older with more experience, striving to prove that the’re ready for the big show, but it does give him a stage, the biggest one he’s had of his career. I’m hopeful that this will be the year he proves that he’s as good as I think he is.