Sixth disappointing after de Silvestro’s great run

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Simona de Silvestro finished sixth Sunday in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a result that left her, her team and throngs of supporters disappointed.

That’s a good omen for a driver who a year ago could have only dreamed of such a result, enduring through 15 races with the woefully underpowered Lotus powerplant.

De Silvestro, the 24-year-old Swiss driver who’s shifted to KV Racing Technology and now has a Chevrolet engine, ran in the top five all race and was on course for her first series podium finish in the last 20 laps.

Unfortunately, her tires faded toward the end of the race, and she was unable to hold off a train of cars behind her. She dropped to sixth at the flag, behind Marco Andretti and KVRT teammate Tony Kanaan, and was caught in the middle of a three-wide photo finish behind Scott Dixon and ahead of EJ Viso.

“It’s been a good weekend for us,” de Silvestro said. “Unfortunately we lost a few positions at the end there. We kind of ran out of tires at the end. I think we can be pretty happy with sixth. Now we know what we have to work on for the next race. It was really cool to be up front all day with Will, Hinch and everybody; it was awesome.”

Small consolation is that the top 10 finish was her first since a 10th place in Toronto in 2011, and second best result of her IndyCar career.

De Silvestro finished ninth at Barber, the next round of the championship, in 2011.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.