‘Hinchtown’ Gets Hand From Andretti

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 21 2020

James Hinchcliffe will be back in an Indy car in 2020. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Martha Fairris)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDYCAR fan-favorite James Hinchcliffe has received a reprieve from open-wheel limbo.

Booted from his full-time ride at Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after its offseason alliance with McLaren, Hinchcliffe will return to the NTT IndyCar Series with Andretti Autosport during the Month of May. In a bit of a homecoming, Hinchcliffe will drive the No. 29 Honda in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course and in his eighth Indianapolis 500 on the IMS oval as well as the Texas 600 June night race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Hinchcliffe, who scored his first three series victories in 2013 driving for team-owner/former driver Michael Andretti, will carry sponsorship from Genesys. The California-based company helps organizations around the globe connect more than 70-billion customer moments each year across voice, text, messaging apps, web chat and social media. 

“Honestly, it’s so nice being able to announce some more good news,” Hinchcliffe said in a team release. “It’s no secret that the 2020 season isn’t going to be exactly what we were expecting, but being able to start the new year (on Jan. 16) with the announcement that Genesys was stepping in to save our season and partner with us was awesome, and now adding the next big piece in my reunion with Andretti Autosport just really makes it feel like the momentum is going our way. I can’t wait to work with this group again and to get back behind the wheel of an Indy car.”

A six-time series race-winner, Hinchcliffe finished 16th on the IMS road-course, 11th in the Indy 500 and 19th at TMS last season while driving for ASPM. Hinchcliffe scored his first career series pole on the 2.5-mile IMS oval in May 2016, one year after suffering life-threatening injuries in a crash during practice that limited him to five starts during his debut season with the team founded by former driver Sam Schmidt.

Hinchcliffe, 33, lost his ride in October when Arrow McLaren SP selected Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew as its fulltime drivers for the 2020 season.  The last two respective Indy Lights champions, O’Ward and Askew were tapped by McLaren for its partnership with the team formerly known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The team’s new technical partnership with Chevrolet _ which replaced Honda as engine-supplier _ left Toronto native Hinchcliffe out of a fulltime ride for 2020.

Hinchcliffe _ arguably the commercial face of Honda in both Canada and the United States _has made 139 INDYCAR race starts. Through the 2012-14 seasons, Hinchcliffe and Andretti recorded three victories, 15 top-fives and nine front-row starts, including two on the famed front row of the Indy 500.

“We’re really pleased to be able to welcome James back into the Andretti team,” said Andretti, chairman/CEO of his Indianapolis-based company. “He has, for sure, been knocked down a few times by this sport and to be able to help him meet the challenge is really special. We had a lot of fun, and some great successes with James when he was part of the team before, and we’re really looking forward to picking up where we left off. 

“I’d also like to welcome Genesys to the Andretti family for their first experience in INDYCAR racing. We now have three, major Indiana-based companies in our portfolio, along with several other brands that call Indianapolis home. It’s special to see these companies supporting Indiana’s home sport of INDYCAR racing and we’re proud to carry them each with us. We’re looking forward to working with James and the Genesys team to deliver both on and off-track success.”

Hinchcliffe will join five teammates for the Indianapolis 500: 2016 race champion Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts/AutoNation Honda); 2014 race champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda); Colton Herta (No. 88 Honda, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport); Marco Andretti (No. 98 U.S. Concrete /Curb Honda, Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco Andretti and Curb-Agajanian) and Zach Veach (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda). 

The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge kicks off with practice days beginning Tuesday, May 12, leading to Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying on May 16-17. The race is scheduled to go green at 12:45 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 24, with a live broadcast on NBC.  

NBC Sports will provide more than 300 hours of INDYCAR coverage in 2020 across NBC, NBC Sports Network, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and NBC Sports Gold’s INDYCAR Pass.

In addition to NBC Sports’ second year of exclusive coverage of the Indy 500 on May 24, the network will carry eight of 17 INDYCAR races, including the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course on Saturday, May 9; the Detroit Dual street events on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit on May 30-31 and the final two races of the season in Portland, Ore., (Sunday, Sept. 6) and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., (Sunday, Sept. 20).

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app _ NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets and connected TVs _ will stream all races during the 2020 season.

NBC Sports’ coverage of the series will begin on Sunday, March 15, on NBCSN with a live telecast of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from St. Petersburg, Fla., the first of 17 races to air on NBC and NBCSN.

The 104th Indianapolis 500 on May 24 will mark its second appearance on NBC. Last year, NBC Sports’ inaugural presentation of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” averaged a TAD of 5.475-million viewers, up 11 percent vs. the 2018 race (TV-only 4.913-million, ABC).

NBC Sports will expand its Indy 500 qualifying coverage in 2020, adding a second day of broadcast coverage and two additional hours on NBC. Indy 500 qualifying on Saturday, May 16, will air from 2-5 p.m. (ET) on NBC, followed by qualifying coverage on Sunday, May 17, on NBC from 1-3 p.m.

The Indy 500 also will be included in NBC Sports’ Championship Season marketing campaign, touting numerous high-profile events presented across NBC Sports platforms from May to July.

INDYCAR coverage on NBC will begin with the GRM Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Saturday, May 9. Following the Indy 500, NBC will present the Detroit Dual races from the Raceway at Belle Isle Park on May 30-31, followed by races at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on Sunday, June 21, and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on Sunday, Aug. 16. The season’s penultimate race in Portland, Ore., will air on NBC on Sunday, Sept. 6, followed by the INDYCAR championship/season-finale at iconic WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 20.

NBCSN will televise the first four races of the 2020 season. Following the season-opener on the Streets of St. Pete, NBCSN will showcase the Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham on Sunday, April 5, followed by the iconic Grand Prix of Long Beach street race on Sunday, April 19, and Circuit of The Americas’ FIA-approved road-course in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, April 26.

NBCSN also will carry INDYCAR’s return to Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, June 27, in primetime _first INDYCAR race at the oval since 2009. Other primetime events on NBCSN include the annual night race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on June 6 and Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., on Aug. 22. Additional schedule mainstays include the Streets of Toronto on July 12 and Iowa Speedway on July 18.

NBC Sports’ 2020 INDYCAR television schedule on NBC and NBCSN (all times Eastern):

Sunday, March 15 _ Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., NBCSN, 3 p.m.

Sunday, April 5 _ Honda Grand Prix of Alabama, Birmingham, NBCSN, 4 p.m.

Sunday, April 19 _ Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, NBCSN, 4 p.m.

Sunday, April 26 _ AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of The Americas, Austin, Texas, NBCSN, 3:30 p.m. 

Saturday, May 9 _ GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NBC, 3 p.m.

Sunday, May 24 _ 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, NBC, 11 a.m.

Saturday, May 30 _ Chevrolet Dual in Detroit-Race 1, NBC, 3 p.m.

Sunday, May 31 _ Chevrolet Dual in Detroit-Race 2, NBC, 3 p.m.

Saturday, June 6 _ Texas Indy 600, Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, NBCSN, 8 p.m.

Sunday, June 21 _ REV Group Grand Prix at Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., NBC, noon.

Saturday, June 27 _ Indy Richmond 300, Richmond, Va., NBCSN, 8 p.m.

Sunday, July 12 _ Honda Indy Toronto, NBCSN, 3 p.m.

Saturday, July 18 _ Iowa 300, Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBCSN, 8:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 16 _ Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio, NBC, 12:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 22 _ Bommarito Automotive Group 500, Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Ill., NBCSN, 8 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 6 _ Grand Prix of Portland, Ore., NBC, 3 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 20 _ Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, NBC, 2:30 p.m.

NBC Sports Gold ‘s INDYCAR Pass will deliver 200-plus hours of programming in 2020, including 50-plus hours of coverage surrounding the Indy 500, all Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races, race-day warm-ups and full-event replays of all NTT IndyCar Series races.

All qualifying and practice sessions will be streamed live on INDYCAR Pass, many on an exclusive basis. Some practice and qualifying sessions will be available on TV either live or on delay. INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold also will feature INDYCAR archival and library content.

Driving legends Janet Guthrie and Dale Earnhardt comprise the 2020 class of inductees into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. Guthrie and Earnhardt will be honored at the 2020 IMS Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Dinner presented by Firestone on Thursday, May 21, in downtown Indianapolis. The two were chosen from a ballot of 14 nominees by a panel of more than 140 auto racing journalists, participants and historians.

“Once again the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame voting panel has chosen two outstanding people who played direct roles in elevating the Speedway, both behind the scenes and in the public eye,” said Tony George, chairman of the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation, which operates the IMS Museum. “Dale Earnhardt’s embrace of the Brickyard 400, especially in 1995 Victory Lane, further elevated the race as a premier NASCAR event, while Janet’s courage, professionalism and driving talent led the way for greater female participation in motorsport.”

An accomplished road-racer before venturing to Indianapolis, Guthrie’s historic tenure at IMS began in 1976 when she became the first female assigned to a car on the entry list. She didn’t make a qualifying attempt but returned in 1977 and became the first female qualifier in race history. Guthrie finished ninth in 1978, best finish by a female until Danica Patrick’s fourth-place result in 2005. Her result was even more remarkable given that Guthrie cracked her wrist several days before the race, secretly wore a cast and essentially drove an Indy car one-handed for 500 miles.

Earnhardt posted five top-10 finishes in just seven Brickyard 400 starts in his signature No.3 Chevrolets, including an extremely popular rain-delayed win in 1995. His NASCAR career is well-documented _ seven NASCAR Cup Series championships, tying “King” Richard Petty for the most in history (later equaled by Jimmie Johnson), plus 76 Cup series wins, including the 1998 Daytona 500.

Earnhardt suffered fatal injuries in a final-lap accident at the 2001 Daytona 500, yet his persona and legacy continue to shape the sport. “The Intimidator” was a member of the NASCAR Hall Fame’s inaugural class in 2010 and has been inducted into numerous motorsports Halls of Fame.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 21 2020
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