With Indy, Monaco and more, May is motorsports nirvana

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You may have noticed this morning that the calendar has flipped to May, and for racing fans, that pretty much means nirvana.

Of course, the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the 97th Indianapolis 500, occurs on May 26. But in the buildup, the IZOD IndyCar Series is far from silent. Heck, it races this weekend, May 5 at 11 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, in Brazil. And a week of practice starting on May 11 builds up to qualifying for the 500 on May 18-19.

Formula One makes its return to Europe, for what seems to be fewer and fewer races in the continent each year as Bernie Ecclestone and FOM expand to far off areas. The Spanish Grand Prix occurs May 12, where Pastor Maldonado scored a shock win a year ago. Then on May 26, our F1 on NBC Sports crew will be live in Monaco for the Monaco Grand Prix, on NBC.

NASCAR? Try Talladega this weekend, the “Lady in Black” after that in Darlington, and two weeks in Charlotte with the Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day night.

Add in some sports car racing (FIA World Endurance Championship at Spa this weekend and the American Le Mans Series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 11), the debut of Australian V8 Supercars with Pirelli World Challenge at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas May 17-19, and a handful of other series racing worldwide and you have a veritable smorgasbord of racing to digest this month.

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.