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Hinchcliffe Back Home With Andretti

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 29 2021

 

James Hinchcliffe will be back with Andretti Autosport this season. (File photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Popular Canadian James Hinchcliffe has reunited with his Andretti Autosport “family” for a 10-race 2021 NTT IndyCar Series schedule that includes the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who competed in six of 14 series races in 2020, will drive the No. 29 Honda he wheeled during the first three events of last season’s COVID-19 impacted schedule. The deal features primary sponsorship with Genesys, the global leader in cloud customer experience and contact center solutions and his backer for three 2020 events.

Hinchcliffe currently is booked to run 10 of 17 INDYCAR races on a schedule set to begin with the revised season-opener at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., on Sunday, April 18.

“It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people,” Hinchcliffe said during a ZOOM conference from Indianapolis with Michael Andretti, CEO and chairman of Andretti Autosport. “To be back fulltime, it’s kind of like a homecoming. This team has been like family to me since I joined the first time back in 2012. We always said we’d get the band back together. We did like a little reunion tour last year, but now we’re fully back together.

“Certainly, I love telling the story, we talked a lot about this last year when we did our three-race deal. It was two months from an Instagram message to signing a deal with Genesys. For a company to move that quickly in this kind of program was unbelievable. They took it a step further by sponsoring the (2020 season-opening) race in Texas. Now to jump up with a 10-race deal, it’s incredible. It just shows the commitment they’re willing to give, the faith they have in us and this program.”

The 2021 season will be Hinchcliffe’s 11th in the NTT IndyCar Series and fifth in the Andretti Autosport stable. Hinch was one of four Andretti Autosport entries to land in the Firestone Fast 9 during qualifying for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 in August. 

Hinchcliffe has six INDYCAR wins in a career that began with Newman Haas Racing in 2011, when he was named IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year. Hinchcliffe moved to Andretti Autosport for the 2012-14 seasons before joining Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2015. Hinchcliffe’s most recent win was scored at Iowa Speedway in July 2018. The 34-year-old Toronto native subsequently emerged as a fan favorite as well as the face of Honda’s televised street car advertisements.

“We’re really excited to have Hinch back in the car for 2021 and thrilled to welcome Genesys again to the Andretti family, this year in an expanded role,” Andretti said. “This is just the first step in many exciting things for the No. 29 and we know Genesys will be a great partner serving as the cornerstone to the season for James.”

Hinchcliffe drove three races for Andretti in the No. 29 Honda and three in the No. 26 Honda vacated by Zach Veach in September. Hinch recorded his best start of fourth driving the No. 26 Honda in the season-ender at St. Petersburg, Fla., after posting a sixth-place start and season-best seventh-place finish in the No. 29 Honda during the 104th running of the Indy 500 in August. He completed 738 of 740 laps run (99.7 percent) with three laps-led _ one at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and two at St. Pete.

“Any time you’re in the race car with the team, there’s items that you can learn from, certainly take into the following year,” Hinchcliffe said. “There’s no major changes to the cars. Every lap I turned in 2020 is going to be valuable, just going to add to the database of knowledge for 2021.

“I’ll be working with a different engineering staff now that we’re a fulltime program. It’s people I had the chance to work alongside, some people I’ve worked with in the past on the car. Yeah, I think a lot of the experience from last year is going to translate well. I don’t think we should start behind the 8-ball really compared to anybody. I think we should be right there.”

Hinchcliffe moonlighted as a color commentator/pit reporter for NBC Sports Group during the eight races he sat-out in 2020.

“It’s funny. Every time something like that happens, I think in an athlete’s career you can take it one of two ways,” Hinchcliffe said. “You can look at the negative, ‘We’re not doing this, I couldn’t do this, not that,’ or you try to focus on the positives that come out of it. I learned a lot in those eight races. It’s been a while since I sort of got to see a race unfold from the pit lane or broadcast booth. You see a whole lot more of a race from up there than you do from inside the cockpit. You only see one show when you’re driving.

“I still was able to connect with the team obviously throughout the season, having those couple races, staying in touch with how they were working, kind of build up a little bit towards what we were hoping was going to be a fulltime ride this year. Obviously that all came together.

“I definitely had a different program in 2020 than I was hoping for, but really enjoyed my time working with NBC and all the talent there. I definitely did learn some things that I think we can apply for next year and definitely helped me continue my growth pattern with the team and just being able to hit the ground running in the first race.”

Hinchcliffe is the fourth full-season entry in Andretti Autosport’s 2021 stable, joining Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda), Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda). Additionally, veteran Marco Andretti _ last year’s Indy 500 pole-sitter _ will return to IMS for the 105th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 30.

“The culture in the team is just phenomenal,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s something that I just really took to when I first started driving there in 2012. That starts at the top with Michael. He’s built an incredible organization. The record speaks for itself.

“Just the atmosphere in the shop, the way we go racing, it just suits me I think as a person. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible teammates there. I certainly think the bigger team, having four cars, these limited race weekends and they’re getting smaller, thanks, COVID, another thing that’s made for us, less track time on race weekends. That program really does help.

“I love working with other drivers, trying to make the whole team better. The atmosphere there really promotes that. I just put it down to team culture. Everybody is pretty supportive. We have an engineering trailer that everybody sits in, everybody can hear all the conversations. It’s a very open book. Sometimes there’s debates and healthy arguing and debating going on about maybe what to do or what the right move is. It’s all very open, all very healthy in that sense.”

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Veteran INDYCAR team-owner Dale Coyne has hired Ed Jones, the 2017 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, to drive the No. 18 Honda for the full 2021 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Jones, who finished third in the 2017 Indy 500, replaces Santino Ferrucci in the car co-entered by 1996 Championship Auto Racing Teams champion Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan. For the fourth consecutive season, the car will carry primary sponsorship from SealMaster Pavement Products and be entered as the No. 18 Team SealMaster-Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan Honda.

Jones, who sat-out the COVID-19 impacted 2020 season, most recently drove in the series for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2019. Jones spent the 2018 season with Chip Ganassi Racing after making his series debut with Coyne’s Plainfield, Ill.-based organization in 2017.

The 2016 Indy Lights Champion, Jones has made 47 INDYCAR starts with 14 top-10 finishes including three podiums, the third at Indy in 2017 and third at Long Beach and Detroit Race-2 in 2018. Jones, 25, was born in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (of British citizenship) and currently resides in Miami.

Coyne will celebrate his 38th season in open-wheel competition in 2021, dating to 1984 as an owner/driver in CART.

“We’re very happy to have Ed Jones back with us and back in the NTT IndyCar Series this season,” Coyne said during a ZOOM conference. “We were sad to see him leave after his first time with us but we’ve kept in touch since. Ed had a great rookie season at DCR in 2017, which included our best finish of third at the Indianapolis 500. Now with DCVS, we hope to continue where we left off with him and look forward to a strong season.”

Jones was scheduled to race in the German DTM series last season before the deal fell apart during the pandemic. “That was the time when I started thinking about INDYCAR, how we could get back into that,” Jones said. “Yeah, it was frustrating. You had to deal with it, work on yourself, see how you can make yourself better to be racing again in INDYCAR.

“I’ve always kept in contact with Dale, seeing what we could figure out. Things took quite a bit of time. It all came through in the end. That’s what’s important. As Dale said, we’ve had a great relationship. I know a lot of the guys at the team already. Having that extra partnership of Vasser Sullivan, continuing their success, is something I’m really excited to get going with.”

Vasser, who is beginning his fourth season as Coyne’s partner, said he expects Jones to pick up the consistency that marked his prior stint with the organization.

“You look at his numbers, 30 percent of his INDYCAR starts have been in the top-10. So he’s a finisher, and he’s consistent,” Vasser said. “I think also he gives us a chance to fight for the Indy 500. Three starts, third and a sixth. We’re excited and energized for the 500, what he can bring. Again, just echo what I said about his consistency. I can tell you all our stakeholders and partners are really stoked to have Ed coming onboard.

“Dale mentioned there’s some unfinished business there. The cars particularly on the ovals have proven to be very quick, so we’re excited.

“We’re like-minded. I think we really complement each other as two organizations. It takes a village. It’s so difficult to try to fight the Penskes and Ganassis and Andrettis of the world, all the way down through the paddock these days, it’s so hard. We’re able to pool all of our resources and pull against the rope together.”

Jones said his 2020 season was limited to “a lot of sim racing” and an appearance at the Goodwood Revival in England behind the wheel of a classic AC Cobra. He also enrolled in an online course at MIT, studying artificial intelligence and digital business management.

“It was different,” Jones said. “I hadn’t studied for 10 years, so it was just something I wanted to do to keep myself busy and learn something new. Probably not what other drivers did, but yeah. It was online courses. Artificial intelligence, about how businesses and companies use it to take advantage of big data. Yeah, very different to what I need for racing, but something I was always interested in, how things are evolving.

“One thing with the data, it’s something you can use into motorsport, maybe not from a driver perspective, but with data on handling how you use testing the car and things like that. Through simulation, as well. It’s something which can be beneficial in the future.”

With Ferrucci’s exit to NASCAR and the team’s No. 19 seat still vacant, Jones has emerged as de facto team leader. “I don’t feel fazed at all by what is going to happen,” Jones said. “I feel confident we’re going to be strong from the get-go. It’s different circumstances in ’17 when Seb (Sebastien Bourdais) had his injury, I had to kind of take lead of the team for a while then. Obviously it’s different now, but not something which I haven’t done in the past. Even in junior categories, I had to take the lead role quite often.

“I’m looking forward to it. A new challenge. As I said, I’m happy that I have the Dale Coyne guys. Jimmy Vasser there will be a great addition. The experience from him will help me fast-track everything I need to do.”

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INDYCAR rookie Scott McLaughlin will carry sponsorship from PPG on the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet for 10 races during the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season. 

The three-time/reigning Australian Supercars champion, McLaughlin made his INDYCAR debut for Team Penske in the 2020 season-finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The 27-year-old native of Christchurch, New Zealand, is transitioning to open-wheel racing in 2021 representing one of Team Penske’s longest-active partners. Penske is celebrating its 37th season with PPG, a Fortune 200 company and global manufacturer of paints, coatings and specialty materials with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa., and operations in nearly 70 countries.

McLaughlin enjoyed a successful four-year run with the DJR Team Penske Supercars program, helping secure three team championships and winning the driver’s title in each of the last three seasons. Over the course of his nine-year Supercars career, McLaughlin won 56 races and 76 poles. He and co-driver Alex Premat also earned Team Penske’s first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019.

Beginning his fifth season with Team Penske in 2021, McLaughlin already ranks among the team’s all-time leaders in career victories (third) and poles (second).

“It is surreal to think my first full season in the INDYCAR series is almost here,” McLaughlin said. “I’m truly living out my dreams and to have PPG on board as our primary partner is amazing. I watched the beautiful blue and white PPG cars compete over the last few years, and they look amazing on track.”

The relationship between Roger Penske and PPG officially began in 1984, when the company first provided paint for Team Penske’s open-wheel cars driven by Rick Mears and Al Unser in CART.

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REVISED 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE

Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (NBC)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (NBC)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (NBCSN)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (NBCSN)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBC)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (NBC)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (NBCSN)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (NBC)

Sunday, July 11 _ Streets of Toronto (NBCSN)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (NBCSN)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)

  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 29 2021
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