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Daly finally full-time in IndyCar, joins Dale Coyne Racing

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After arguably one of the more winding roads through both the American and European open-wheel ladders to get to a full-time seat, Conor Daly will finally have that opportunity in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season with Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly, who turns 24 on December 15, is Coyne’s first driver confirmed for 2016, and comes at a fairly early time.

The confirmation follows reports in the last week or so (Motorsport.com’s David Malsher first broke story) that Daly was close to a deal with Coyne, an IndyCar lifer who of course is notorious for late driver announcements.

Daly broke the news prior to an official announcement scheduled at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis.

The move sees Daly – who ran five IndyCar races in three different entries this past season (one with Coyne, four with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in two separate cars) – now solidified in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda after several years of bouncing around between IndyCar, Indy Lights, GP2, GP3, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and other championships.

It also gives Coyne a needed measure of stability on the driver front, after no less than eight drivers (Daly, Carlos Huertas, Francesco Dracone, Rocky Moran Jr., Rodolfo Gonzalez, Pippa Mann, Tristan Vautier, James Davison) were spread across Coyne’s two (and at the Indianapolis 500, three) cars throughout the 2015 campaign.

Daly, interestingly, is a rarity as an American driver for Coyne. Prior to him and Moran ultimately splitting the No. 18 car at Long Beach in one of the more bizarre weekends of the season, Coyne’s most recent American drivers were Geoff Boss (2003), Alex Barron (2000) and Dennis Vitolo (1997-1999).

Barron, like Daly, is an underrated driver but the other two were never going to be superstars.

Tristan Vautier, meanwhile, tested with Coyne at Road America in September and was a possibility to return for a first full season, after running the last 11 races of 2015.

 

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.