WEC: Brabham in, Team SARD Morand out for Silverstone

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The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season kicks off with the 6 Hours of Silverstone this weekend, but there have been two late changes to the grid ahead of the curtain-raiser.

The field has fallen to 29 cars for the race weekend following the withdrawal of Team SARD Morand, which had been due to field two cars in LMP2 at Silverstone.

The no. 39 comprising of Christian Klien, Koki Saga and Zoel Amberg, and the no. 43 of Pierre Ragues, Oliver Webb and Tristan Vautier have been sidelined for this weekend’s race, with the team releasing a short statement confirming its withdrawal.

“We are sorry to announce that Team SARD Morand has to withdraw its two Morgan Evo SARD from the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship held this weekend at Silverstone,” the statement reads.

“Due to administrative and legal reasons, Benoit Morand and his crew will miss the opening round of the championship. From now on, everything is done to race in Belgium for the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship and for the remaining rounds of the season.”

Morand also commented on the matter, saying: “Announcing this withdrawal is very painful. The team and I are working hard to race in Belgium and for the following rounds. I am still optimistic and have to go ahead.”

However, there has been a late addition to the LMP2 grid for the race at Silverstone in the form of David Brabham in the no. 31 Extreme Speed Motorsports Tequila Patron ESM car.

The Australian driver will substitute for Johannes van Overbeek, who had been due to race alongside Ed Brown and Jon Fogarty, only to pull out due to a rib injury.

“It was quite a surprise to get a call this close to the race,” Brabham said. “Scott [Sharp] explained the situation, and I feel for Johannes after having my own rib injury a couple of months ago racing in Australia. I know how much pain he is in.

“I’m honored to have been called up to help out Tequila Patrón ESM here at Silverstone, which isn’t that far from where I live. I’ll do the best I can this weekend.

“I’m back in racing form since my accident and have been training frequently. I’m looking forward to driving with Ed again, and we’ll start the Tequila Patrón ESM WEC season off on the right foot.”

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.