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Vasser, “Sulli” shooting for more wins, possible KVSH title in 2016

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If last year Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing proved one-car teams can be thorns in the side of the four-car behemoths from Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport, then KVSH Racing is hoping that 2016 is its turn to upset the formbook and convert its undoubted potential into a similar RLL-type single-car title-contending run in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

You’re probably wondering how a team that’s only won four races in the last three years – Sebastien Bourdais’ two wins last year and one in 2014, and Tony Kanaan’s Indianapolis 500 triumph in 2013 – can pull that off.

The key, as team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan say (Kevin Kalkhoven is third team co-owner), is continuity in personnel and a reduction to the one-car effort with Olivier Boisson remaining as engineer.

“We wanted to keep two cars open for economies of scale on the financial side,” Vasser told NBC Sports at Phoenix International Raceway for the Test in the West last weekend.

“We talked about it all through the offseason. We had a couple options. But the last few years, the second car hasn’t lived up to what it could be financially and performance wise.

“We put everything behind the ‘11 arrow’ from the sponsor side. Then we always looked for the second car, whether it was (Sebastian) Saavedra or (Stefano) Coletti last year to really add to it, and it just didn’t. It seemed to suck everything away. We’re all pretty excited for just one car.”

Sullivan added to it, noting the team’s preparation throughout the winter even despite limited testing (just Road America and Phoenix).

“That’s certainly the plan. In all the interviews we had at the end of last season and in the offseason, this was a one-directional focus year for us,” Sullivan told NBC Sports.

“The car itself, I think, is probably one of the best cars we’ve ever built from a preparation perspective coming in, as far as how the car has been put together and been built, the weight savings and the fuel flow work.

“We’re probably putting one of the best cars on the track we ever have put on. And if you couple that with the fact that we have one focus, and that’s KVSH and all around Seb, and I’m hoping this is going to be a good season for us.”

Saavedra (21st in 2014) and Coletti (19th last year) both years finished as the last place full-time driver in points.

Bourdais has been a misleading 10th both of the last two years, because he’s had top-five potential.

Sullivan’s efforts this winter have been nothing short of tireless to even ensure the No. 11 HYDROXYCUT Chevrolet continued into 2016.

Some key changes within HYDROXYCUT meant a delay in the completion process, and Bourdais’ one-year contract extension was only finalized in the days leading up to the Phoenix test.

“It’s a one-year extension to what we have, and hopefully we’re able to add to that and build for multi years in the future,” Vasser explained. “But that’s going to come from us securing commercial partners to do so and then Sebastien deciding if he wants to stay with us and this is a team that he wants to be with in the future. It’s certainly a goal. We’re not ready to put him out to pasture.”

Vasser noted there’s still a lot of commercial partner continuity for 2016.

“It’s everything, really,” Vasser said. “We’re going on our eighth year with Plantronics; our seventh with GEICO; American Racing Wheels is another one we’ve had for a long time, and then having Mouser back on board after being gone a couple years. We won Indy with Tony Kanaan with a HYDROXYCUT and Mouser car. So that should be cool for the 100th running.”

Vasser said until the final four races last year, Bourdais was theoretically in title contention, hence the high hopes for 2016.

“For the season, first, we’re keeping the nucleus of our team together with Seb,” Vasser said. “We really believe we’re in a position to fight for the championship, for the first time, maybe, in the history of KV Racing.

“We won two races last year and one the year before. I think we can win four races this year.

“I really think… we were in the championship until Mid-Ohio. But we got caught out when they closed the pits.

“We just s–t our pants the last four races. Seb crashed at Pocono. Pocono was a disaster all around with (losing) Justin (Wilson).

“Then we were actually fifth in points until Seb got the penalty for hitting Rahal (at Sonoma), and at that point, we were fifth.

“We feel going into this year we can win the championship.”

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.