Home hero Daniil Kvyat impresses in practice at Sochi

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Daniil Kvyat has made an impressive start to his home grand prix weekend in Russia by finishing inside the top ten in both practice sessions on Friday.

The Sochi Autodrom is hosting Formula 1 for the first time this weekend at an impressive facility constructed around the site for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Although it is early days, the first signs are promising, with nearly all of the tickets being sold and the drivers giving the track their seal of approval.

Kvyat, 20, has already had a grandstand at the track named after him, and he will become the first Russian driver to take part in a world championship F1 grand prix on home soil this Sunday.

After finishing seventh in FP1 and eighth in FP2, the Toro Rosso driver looks to be in the running for a points finish, but he believes that more progress can be made ahead of qualifying tomorrow.

“It was a normal Friday and we worked on trying to find the best compromise for the general setup on this new track,” Kvyat explained. “Even though we were already looking quite promising today, hopefully we can do another good step forward for tomorrow and look even better.

“I had a good feeling with the car, which seems quite promising here. It was great to finally get out there and I enjoyed driving on this cool track a lot.”

Toro Rosso’s pace was backed up by Jean-Eric Vergne’s results in the sister car. He too finished inside the top ten in both sessions, albeit behind Ricciardo.

“It was a productive Friday,” Vergne said. “The team did a great job to arrive here with a car that was straightaway well setup for this new track. I think we have a good car but today we didn’t get the best out of the tires. We still have some work to do tonight to understand their behavior and go quicker tomorrow.”

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.