Hinchcliffe turns 27 today, and continues to grow in IndyCar

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We wish a happy 27th birthday today to IndyCar’s lone full-time confirmed Canadian for 2014, James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport. As Hinchcliffe ticks another year off this year, we figure it would be a good time to look back and see how he’s grown in the series over the last three years.

As a rookie in 2011, Hinchcliffe entered with limited preseason testing and had to gather a budget to compete for Newman/Haas Racing. Despite missing the opening race of the season, Hinchcliffe entered into as good a situation as was possible: a team with a winning, championship pedigree for nearly 30 years, an excellent engineer in Craig Hampson and one of IndyCar’s most well-regarded drivers, who always seems to suffer the worst luck and timing with teams, in Oriol Servia as a teammate.

Hinchcliffe flourished, with the sixth-best qualifying average in the field behind only the three Team Penske and two Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers. Although he failed to secure a podium, he finished 12th in the standings, and won Rookie-of-the-Year honors in a stacked field that included JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra and James Jakes.

In 2012, if under less than ideal circumstances, Hinchcliffe was picked as Dan Wheldon’s replacement at Andretti Autosport. Wheldon had signed to drive the GoDaddy Chevrolet piloted by Danica Patrick before his fatal accident in the 2011 Las Vegas season finale. Still, again, Hinchcliffe improved with his first few podium finishes and ending eighth in the series standings.

This past year was a breakout year, with three wins scored either by a last stint pass (St. Petersburg), a last turn pass (Brazil) or a lasting dominant impact (crushing win in Iowa). Hinchcliffe, too, was reunited with Hampson as engineer after a year with Tino Belli in 2012. Still, as the season wore on, the Andretti advantage seemed to wear off in the second half, although Hinchcliffe’s consistency improved from a results standpoint following a roller coaster first half.

“It was a little bit of everything,” he explained in a phone interview a couple weeks ago when in Milwaukee at a David Hobbs Honda dealership event. “The second half had a couple things where sure, there was some luck involved, but the results were a moving target. Plus the three Ganassi cars got so much better so that moved them up from where they had been.”

Hinchcliffe also, for the first time, had the challenge of weighing his options as a free agent. He could either return to Andretti, but was also linked to switches to either Ganassi or KV Racing Technology.

“It was a unique position, being in that position for the first time,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to try and get done, and to be honest, the process wasn’t something I enjoyed. Rumors tend to distract you from going racing.

“But I’m glad to have made the decision I did to return. We did have other options. But it’s important to keep the group together for another year.”

It’s important to note that the contract Hinchcliffe signed for 2014 with Andretti is just for one year. If, for instance, Ganassi opts to go with a short-term solution to replace Dario Franchitti with a veteran who may or may not “move the needle” from an overarching marketing standpoint, Hinchcliffe’s name could pop up again for that seat come 2015.

But armed with another new engineer – Nathan O’Rourke, who moves over from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing – and a new engine for 2014, the goal is a sustained, season-long championship challenge. That will undoubtedly help to boost his stock even further, after three years in IndyCar and six in the open-wheel ladder system before that.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.