What to watch for: IndyCar at Sonoma

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SLIPPERY SONOMA

Getting a grip on the situation will be very tough to do for the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers in today’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Throughout the weekend, we’ve heard that the tires have a very short window of optimal performance before they fall off. There’s also Mother Nature to think about, as the California winds can toss sand and dirt on the track, making the driving experience even more hairy.

LUCKY SEVEN

Last year’s modifications to Sonoma’s IndyCar course included tightening up Turn 7, which comes after a short burst down the track’s dragstrip. It’s probably the best of the passing zones that opened up with the modifications, which also affected Turn 9 and Turn 11, the last corner on the course. Having a good run off the Carousel and onto the strip will be critical to making passes in Turn 7 work, but it can be done.

MAKE THE MOST OF IT

Scott Dixon finished one spot behind Helio Castroneves three weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, missing out on an opportunity to cut further into the latter’s championship lead at a place where he’d won four previous times. But with he and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti running as strong as they have this weekend in Sonoma, Dixon has another chance to narrow his 31-point gap to the Brazilian.

DON’T HOLD BACK

As I mentioned earlier this weekend, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti may be still in the championship but must make up significant ground on Castroneves and Dixon this afternoon. It’s time for these two to be as aggressive as they can get away with.

IZOD IndyCar Series – GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
Starting Grid

Row 1
10-Dario Franchitti
9-Scott Dixon

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

Row 3
3-Helio Castroneves
83-Charlie Kimball

Row 4
19-Justin Wilson
15-Graham Rahal

Row 5
27-James Hinchcliffe
77-Simon Pagenaud

Row 6
25-Marco Andretti
7-Sebastien Bourdais

Row 7
14-Takuma Sato
55-Tristan Vautier (rookie)

Row 8
5-E.J. Viso
11-Tony Kanaan

Row 9
67-Josef Newgarden
98-J.R. Hildebrand

Row 10
16-James Jakes
6-Sebastian Saavedra

Row 11
4-Ryan Briscoe
78-Simona de Silvestro

Row 12
20-Ed Carpenter
97-Lucas Luhr (rookie)

Row 13
*18-James Davison (rookie)

Drivers in italics will start on the alternate Firestone tires
*18-Davison has been penalized for an unapproved engine change; he qualified 21st on Saturday.

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.