Marco Andretti’s pole leads Andretti Autosport Milwaukee qualifying romp

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Marco Andretti set the pace in both practice sessions for the Milwaukee IndyFest (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) and followed it up with his third career pole in the IZOD IndyCar Series later Friday afternoon. His first came at Milwaukee in 2008, and he also won the pole at last year’s season-closer in Fontana, Calif.

“We rolled off pretty good,” Andretti said. “We knew Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) would be the one to beat. I’d have to go flat in 1-2 both laps. Like I said the (No. 25) RC Cola car has been right where we need to be. Good in race trim too.”

It was an Andretti Autosport benefit in qualifying for the Andretti Sports Marketing-promoted event. Andretti’s teammate James Hinchcliffe qualified second, with Ryan Hunter-Reay fourth and E.J. Viso fifth on the grid.

Hinchcliffe’s GoDaddy team made a good recovery from the Canadian’s contact in first practice to fix his No. 27 Chevrolet.

“From where we were on the 27 car, if you’d have told us three hours ago we’d be on the front row, we would have laughed at you back at the truck,” he said. “The first practice I tried to move the wall in Turn 2. It didn’t work. The second practice, we just fought an ill-handling car. We made changes, but we didn’t end up happy. To go out there was great, with the first ever flat qualifying lap at Milwaukee.”

Will Power was the only driver outside the thus far dominant team this weekend to break up the party with third place in the Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Chevrolets swept the top seven spots on the grid, with Dragon Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra posting a career-best qualifying effort in sixth ahead of Tony Kanaan in seventh.

Three Hondas – Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) and Schmidt teammates Simon Pagenaud (HP Schmidt Hamilton) and Tristan Vautier (Schmidt Peterson) – completed the top 10.

No grid penalties for engine changes have been assessed to this point and the final grid will be issued before Saturday’s race.

IZOD IndyCar Series – Milwaukee IndyFest
Unofficial Starting Lineup

Row 1
25-Marco Andretti
27-James Hinchcliffe

Row 2
12-Will Power
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay

Row 3
5-E.J. Viso
6-Sebastian Saavedra

Row 4
11-Tony Kanaan
67-Josef Newgarden

Row 5
77-Simon Pagenaud
55-Tristan Vautier

Row 6
9-Scott Dixon
16-James Jakes

Row 7
19-Justin Wilson
7-Sebastien Bourdais

Row 8
14-Takuma Sato
98-Alex Tagliani

Row 9
10-Dario Franchitti
3-Helio Castroneves

Row 10
4-Ryan Briscoe
18-Ana Beatriz

Row 11
20-Ed Carpenter
83-Charlie Kimball

Row 12
15-Graham Rahal
78-Simona de Silvestro

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.