GP of Houston hopes to become a “tradition” (VIDEO)

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This weekend marks the last part of a month-long break for the IZOD IndyCar Series before it heads to Houston next weekend for the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader. Anticipation is growing for the final “two-step” of the campaign, which marks the return of open-wheel racing to Clutch City after a six-year absence.

The Grand Prix of Houston has had a strange history; it was part of the Champ Car schedule from 1998 to 2001 (and featured a traditional downtown street course), went away for a few years, then came back for 2006 and 2007 at Reliant Park before going dark again in the wake of the merger between Champ Car and IndyCar (then, the Indy Racing League).

So will the third time prove to be the charm in making Houston a long-term staple for IndyCar? Austin Crossley, the race’s managing director, is – as you’d expect – confident despite the race’s intermittent past.

“We’ve had a couple bumps in the road – we had a race downtown for four years that had to stop because of our explosion of construction in the early 2000s and we had the race at Reliant Park for a couple of years,” Crossley said in an interview earlier this morning with Houston NBC affiliate KPRC-TV.

“The two racing series merged, we lost our date, but we’re back. We have a five-year deal with IndyCar and Reliant Park, and we have Shell as our big sponsor which is so important. We’re planning to establish this as a tradition for many years to come.”

For more on the upcoming event, check out the interview with Crossley above. Both races of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston will air LIVE on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, with Race 1 on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. ET and Race 2 on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. ET.

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.