Josef Newgarden leads first IndyCar practice at Toronto

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Coming off a superb runner-up showing at Iowa Speedway, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden has opened the Honda Indy Toronto weekend atop the first practice session.

A last-second flyer of 1:00.2385 around the 1.75-mile Exhibition Place street circuit was enough to grant Newgarden the fastest time of the session ahead of Team Penske’s Will Power (1:00.4497) and Toronto’s own James Hinchcliffe (1:00.5728).

Newgarden is trying to continue his upward trend over the last few races, which include an eighth at Pocono and the aforementioned second behind Ryan Hunter-Reay one weekend ago.

“When things are going like that, it’s really good,” he said to IndyCar Radio. “You just want to try and keep the momentum rolling and not have anything silly happen. Even when they do, hopefully you get over it really quickly and hope there’s nothing substantial.

“We’ve had a good string of results, the team’s worked really hard, and all we’re focusing on is trying to finish out the year right. I think we’ve got a good shot at that.”

Newgarden has had an up-and-down third season in the series with five DNFs (three crashes, one gearbox, one lost wheel), but feels that the recent work from him and SFHR is proof of their true talent.

“It’s a tough thing in racing because nobody really sees the evidence for everything – there’s a lot of looking at and saying, ‘Why is that like that?’ and you kinda take it for face value, where a lot of teams, a lot of drivers, a lot of situations have things come up and you just don’t see why,” he noted.

“We’ve had a lot of things we’ve dealt with, but I think we’ve got a great group. We have fast cars and good engineering. I’d just be really pleased for this team if we could string together some more results for this year.”

Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Helio Castroneves was fourth in the session (1:00.6363). Rookie pilot Carlos Munoz rounded out the Top 5 (1:00.6514).

A second IndyCar practice at Exhibition Place is slated to begin later today at 1:55 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.