A trio of Hinch tidbits: Awaiting 2016 IndyCar teammate, returns to PIR, keen to try NASCAR

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There’s never a shortage of nuggets, material or insight you can glean from a conversation from the Verizon IndyCar Series’ resident court jester, four-time race winner and sole full-time Canadian driver in James Hinchcliffe.

As such, here’s a few tidbits of note from a driver who’s likely enjoyed some “Timbits” from Tim Horton’s over the years…

Hinch doesn’t have his 2016 IndyCar teammate set, and isn’t sure when he’ll know.

As Hinchcliffe returns to IndyCar full-time in 2016 after his injury-shortened 2015 season, there’s a somewhat decent chance he’ll have a new full-season teammate at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

When he finds out who that is, though, is anyone’s guess.

Hinchcliffe had Ryan Briscoe and Conor Daly replace him in the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda the final 11 races this year, and while Daly would be a logical option in the second car, Briscoe’s 2016 IndyCar availability is limited to the month of May due to his new role with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT program.

James Jakes ran the full season in the second car this year, taking over from Russian Mikhail Aleshin, who made a promising one-off comeback at the Sonoma season finale.

Meanwhile Jakes’ fellow Brit Jack Harvey is another would-be contender, having tested successfully back in Sonoma in mid-August and working hard to find the budget for a step up to IndyCar from Indy Lights.

Each of the variable drivers intrigue Hinch, who diplomatically isn’t saying who he’d pick as a favorite.

“There’s a bunch of guys. I think,” Hinchcliffe told NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I enjoyed having James this year, and another year back might help him get back up to pace after a year off. Conor did a great job for us. Ryan did a great job for us.

“There’s some young guys… Jack Harvey did well obviously for Schmidt in the Lights program and he’s keen to move up. He did a really good job in Sonoma in the Lights driver day there. There’s a couple good options.”

Hinchcliffe said he didn’t know when team co-owner Sam Schmidt will be able to make a decision, and also says he isn’t as involved in the decision-making process as he wishes he could be. But if Schmidt and Ric Peterson can find a greater haul for the second car, it would negate the necessity to bring on a driver primarily down to budgetary reasons.

“Sam calls me and we talk about it, but it’s an economics thing a lot of the time,” Hinchcliffe explained. “He’s trying to find more sponsorship to help out with that program on the 7 car. We’ll see what he can achieve on the commercial side, because that determines what driver market you’re playing into.”

Hinch remembers short ovals are fast.

So after a day apiece at Road America, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Sebring short course, Hinchcliffe made his return to testing on a short oval last week at Phoenix International Raceway. Since he missed the oval schedule in 2015, this was his first short oval running since the Milwaukee Mile in August 2014 – a race that is now absent from the calendar in 2015.

“I hadn’t been on a short oval since August last year… so you forget things happen quick!” Hinchcliffe told Ryan. “It’s about the pace you carry. It’s a weird Milwaukee/Iowa/Pocono mix. It definitely keeps you on your toes. If we get the tire compound right, it should be a great race.”

Hinchcliffe also said he’d like to see another mile-and-a-half oval added to the schedule at some stage.

Hinch would like to try his hand at a NASCAR Xfinity Series road course race.

We mentioned this with Daniel Ricciardo and Dale Earnhardt Jr. late last month, that given the nature of the break in the F1 calendar in August 2016 that Dale Jr. has a JR Motorsports Xfinity car waiting for him if Ricciardo is able to.

Could Hinchcliffe be able to do the same?

He told veteran ace Canadian motorsports journalist Dean McNulty, who retired after Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race, he’d love to get in an Xfinity car and with IndyCar having a similar break in August – IndyCar only races at Pocono August 21 – the timing is perfect.

“We have come close the past couple of years trying to put a program together so now with August pretty much open for IndyCar, the timing couldn’t be better,” Hinchcliffe told McNulty, via the Toronto Sun.

In a separate interview with NBCSN’s Rutledge Wood during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pre-race show, Hinchcliffe confirmed the interest and Rutledge came up with the idea of a hashtag for support – #GetHinchToTheGlen – which has already been picked up on.

Hinchcliffe joined Marco Andretti and Josef Newgarden as IndyCar stars making a cameo appearance at the Sprint Cup race.

Hinchcliffe also told Wood about seeing Gordon,“I am a big fan of racing and I am a big fan of Jeff Gordon, and there was just no way I was not going to be at his last race.”

He also joked about the fact he wore a No. 24 hat all of sixth grade and said, “I think everyone thought I didn’t have any other hats.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.