IndyCar: Hinchcliffe completes “get to know you” first test with SPM

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James Hinchcliffe embarked on his first full day of testing this offseason Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway, which marked his first time in a car since the end of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season in August.

The Canadian has had a busy offseason that’s included his signing with new team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and a host of other off-track events. But with IndyCar’s limited testing time and a two-month acquaintance period since his SPM signing in October, it was only Tuesday he could actually get in a car.

“It’s been way too long,” Hinchcliffe told MotorSportsTalk. “These testing rules are killer. With the new team, we were all anxious to get on track.

“A lot of those things were done to keep my mind off the fact I wasn’t in a car,” he added. “Keeping busy was the plan all along. Now we can start to get into the swing of things. But having that first test was big. We can debrief from that and bugs we found.”

Hinchcliffe worked with veteran engineer Allen McDonald for this test. McDonald has not been publicly confirmed yet to engineer the No. 77 Honda for 2015, but is likely to do the job after being on SPM’s second car for rookies Mikhail Aleshin and Tristan Vautier the last two years.

He’ll follow from Hinch’s past engineers Nathan O’Rourke (2014), Craig Hampson (2011, 2013) and Tino Belli (2012). Hinchcliffe was full of praise for McDonald after just a single day together.

“I’m really lucky to be able to work with him,” Hinchcliffe said. “I saw him at Andretti in 2012, and I know what his CV is. The fact we have worked on the same team before gets you past the ‘get to know you’ phase.

“We spoke a lot of the same language. So he was prepared. It all went pretty smoothly and seamlessly, and I hope to learn to a lot from him.”

For Hinchcliffe, it was a necessary and good day getting integrated with the SPM crew and team in a track day setting.

“That’s all you can do for now, since we’re not on the new bodywork or engine yet,” he said. “It was a ‘get to know you’ day. Get to know how the engineering stuff operates.

“It was a good day. You see what a well-polished team it is. We went through some procedural and mundane stuff, like fuel saving or things of that nature.”

Hinchcliffe banked what he called “a bunch” of laps – pushing if not exceeding 100 around the Sebring short course would provide a good estimate. There’s plenty upside of testing at the same place, as Sebring’s trademark bumps and character always provide a good baseline setup.

“The nice thing is, this track hasn’t changed since 1952,” Hinchcliffe joked. “That’s the good news about it. From that side of things, we’ve run so many laps. You’ll always roll off normal unless you’re testing experimental parts, so we didn’t have a ton in the pipeline planned. It was a standard test.”

Hinchcliffe’s next test should be late January or early February after the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Meanwhile SPM is spending Wednesday continuing its audition of GP2 veterans for the second seat.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”