Chevy seeks St. Pete three-peat; Honda looks to return to top in IndyCar opener

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A less heralded but still key talking point of the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, is which engine manufacturer will emerge on top.

Chevrolet has taken the opening two season-openers since returning to the series in 2012. Helio Castroneves took the 2012 victory and James Hinchcliffe passed the Brazilian to emerge victorious one year ago.

For this 2014 edition, Honda opens up with its new twin-turbo specification for the first time, while Chevrolet is into year three of development with its own version after successive IndyCar Manufacturer’s Championships.

Some of the areas where Chevrolet still sought to improve throughout 2013 and into 2014 included fuel injection, cylinder heads, plenum / inlet system, exhaust headers and calibration, to improve upon an already immensely successful engine.

“Team Chevy is primed, prepared and positive about the start of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season kicking off on the streets of St. Petersburg, said Chris Berube, Chevrolet Racing Program Manager, Verizon IndyCar Series. “Chevrolet has had good results on this circuit the past two seasons since returning to IndyCar competition. With our updated 2.2L twin turbo direct injected V6 Chevrolet IndyCar engines, new formats to the championship points and a race on the road course at IMS to kick off the month of May, there is a plethora of new challenges to look forward to. Top it off with Verizon as the new Series sponsor to engage the fans with leading edge communication technology and this could be the season to remember.”

On the team side, Chevrolet loses Andretti Autosport but gains Chip Ganassi Racing. In total, they’ll have just four teams and 10 cars.

Honda, which has lost technical director Roger Griffiths, has seven teams and 12 cars. The manufacturer’s new engine is designed, manufactured, maintained and developed by HPD.

“We’ve been encouraged by the performance of the new Honda Indy V6 and the improvements we’ve made during the off-season,” said Mark Crawford, HPD Large Project Leader for the IndyCar program. “We believe we have a great lineup of teams and drivers, including a good balance of proven race winners and promising new stars. We’re looking forward to the start of the 2014 season on the streets of St. Petersburg, and taking on the challenge presented by Chevrolet in the battle for the Manufacturers’ Championship.”

Andretti’s group has the highest number of Hondas in the field, with four entries.

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.