de Silvestro leads Barber Saturday morning practice

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Simona de Silvestro paced the final practice session before qualifying for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Saturday morning.

The KV Racing Technology driver led the 14 drivers that dipped into the 1:07 range in the early session. Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dario Franchitti completed the top five.

“I’m sure it (leading practice) does a lot (for my confidence),” she said. “I think the car is pretty good this morning, we have to see how the track is going to change for a little bit later, but the car has been pretty quick and the whole KV crew has been working really hard during the test here and when we got back.”

AJ Allmendinger in seventh led the three Team Penske cars, fresh off the news he’ll also be racing at Long Beach in two weeks (more to come on that later this afternoon). Will Power was only 10th with Helio Castroneves, fastest on Friday, in 12th. The top 24 cars were within 0.9088 of a second of de Silvestro.

Qualifying begins at 11:25 a.m. EST with TV coverage on at 5 p.m. EST on the NBC Sports Network.

Qualifying groups for the three rounds of knockout qualifying are below, via INDYCAR:

Group 1                Group 2
#98 Alex Tagliani    #3 Helio Castroneves
#77 Simon Pagenaud     #55 Tristan Vautier (R)
#9 Scott Dixon         #12 Will Power
#2 AJ Allmendinger     #5 E.J. Viso
#14 Takuma Sato        #16 James Jakes
#1 Ryan Hunter-Reay    #19 Justin Wilson
#10 Dario Franchitti   #22 Oriol Servia
#11 Tony Kanaan        #27 James Hinchcliffe
#83 Charlie Kimball    #78 Simona de Silvestro
#7 Sebastien Bourdais  #25 Marco Andretti
#15 Graham Rahal       #67 Josef Newgarden
#6 Sebastian Saavedra  #4 JR Hildebrand
#18 Ana Beatriz        #20 Ed Carpenter

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.