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Speed’s Red Bull GRC title comeback run started midseason

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MotorSportsTalk caught up with Scott Speed, the newly crowned Red Bull Global Rallycross champion for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, for his thoughts on the season that was.

In a two-part interview, we look back at where his 2015 season changed, and how important this title was for him, his career, and the team and manufacturer.

At the fourth of July weekend, at the MCAS New River military base in Charlotte, the hopes and dreams of Scott Speed and the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team claiming a Red Bull Global Rallycross title were slim.

Speed ended the fourth of 12 rounds this season exactly 100 points in arrears of then-championship leader Ken Block, in ninth place out of 14 drivers who had competed in a GRC Supercar event.

“It seems that a dark cloud is surrounding our team right now, and it just can’t seem to go away,” Speed said then, via the team’s post-race release, after a mechanical failure forced an early race retirement.

Slightly more than four months later, Speed emerged from his No. 41 Orafol/Merchant First/Shark Week VW Beetle on the Village Lot at the Strip in Las Vegas as season champion, following a torrid second half comeback that was nothing short of incredible.

The first four races saw Speed finish second once, then ninth and fail to qualify for two final rounds.

In the last eight races, Speed finished first or second in six of them, with third in Las Vegas serving as his second worst result in that stretch.

“The first four, it felt we were where didn’t even start the final,” Speed told MotorSportsTalk in a post-Las Vegas interview.

“We had some reliability issues. My engineer and I were talking about things… do we start talking about next year? The points we were out were so much, so we had to come back.

“To develop these cars into what they were, and became the car to beat every weekend, it means more. It was such a team effort between Tanner (Foust), myself, the engineers, VW and Andretti.”

It was easy to forget the Beetle, as a new car that had upgraded to a 2.0L engine over the winter, was still in the midst of its first full race season this year. It spent the majority of 2014 testing before a debut at Las Vegas; the team had campaigned the VW Polo previously.

“It’s really our first year at it,” Speed said. “We went kind of with rental cars as a learning experience, until our Beetles were ready.

“We knew right away they’d be fast. We knew we could work on them. As you know, GRC’s a bit of a contact sport. So the car’s gotta be really tough. We accomplished that very quickly in a matter of races. We had to work on the performance of the car.”

The weekend at Detroit, a doubleheader round after MCAS New River, proved a pivotal one for both Speed and the team.

With the championships on the brink – Speed was ninth and Foust, in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle sixth in points, 59 back of Block – Detroit served as the midway point of the year and a chance to re-enter the fray.

Block and Patrik Sandell split the race wins but Block’s penalty assessed for avoidable contact in the second race, and a subsequent seventh place finish in the final, marked the beginning of an eventual second-half tailspin from there.

Speed banked a pair of runner-up finishes in the finals, and it was important to have ironed out the reliability issues. Foust’s nightmare weekend was not due to reliability, but contact in both races.

“I think (the turning point) probably was having a clean weekend in Detroit,” Speed said. “There were no mechanicals.

“From that point, we kind of figured out what was going to break on the car. We’d address all these issues. First full year of the car, and that weekend really showed we had the reliability, then we could work on making the car faster.”

The VWs were finally able to run at competition weight from Los Angeles, thanks to a new throttle system installed on the cars.

With Speed’s weekend sweep there of that doubleheader round, he had suddenly moved into second in points – just 13 back of Block with three races remaining.

The table was set for Speed and Foust to snatch the title from Block’s grasp, heading to the final two months of the season with rounds at Barbados and Las Vegas.

In part two, we’ll look at those final rounds, plus the magnitude of what the title means for all parties (Speed, VW, Andretti).

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.