Today marks 15 years since we lost Gonzalo Rodriguez, rising Uruguayan driver

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In the racing world, September 11 also has a somber memory – each year annually marks the anniversary of the death of then-rising Uruguayan driver Gonzalo Rodriguez, who at 27 had untapped potential that never was fully exploited.

Today marks 15 years since his fatal accident, when his car’s stuck throttle launched him off course and over the wall at the Corkscrew, at what was then known as Laguna Seca Raceway (now Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca).

Rodriguez was in his second CART weekend, having made his debut at Detroit earlier in the year in Team Penske’s second car and scoring a point.

He’d arrived from Formula 3000; incidentally, he’d raced against, and occasionally beaten, current Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya when the two were both in F3000 in 1998. Rodriguez finished third in the championship behind Montoya and Nick Heidfeld, and ahead of drivers such as Soheil Ayari, Stephane Sarrazin, Nicolas Minassian, Bruno Junqueira and Gaston Mazzacane.

Montoya came over to CART for the first time in 1999 and Rodriguez made it as well. Rodriguez was one of a number of young drivers who Roger Penske ran that season; Alex Barron and Tarso Marques also made appearances.

In many respects, Rodriguez’s passing was overlooked that year because of the accident that claimed Greg Moore little more than a month later. But it was no less of a loss.

Rodriguez is one of two drivers we remember on this September 11 – today also marks 36 years since Ronnie Peterson’s passing. We touched on that on this day last year, as well.

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.