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Chaves, Coyne top Thursday practice for Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS –  It’s not every day or year you write that a Dale Coyne Racing-entered driver has beat a Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing driver to the top of the timesheets in Indianapolis 500 practice.

Thursday, May 19, 2016, however, is one of those rare exceptions when you do. And for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, a Coyne driver has beat a Penske or Ganassi driver to the best time in practice.

Gabby Chaves, in only his sixth day of official running with Coyne (three at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and three practice days this month), was best of the day at 227.961 mph in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda.

“It’s only practice, but it feels good,” said the 22-year-old talented Colombian American, who was last year’s race and series rookie of the year.

Chaves led a pair of Andretti Autosport drivers in NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell and Carlos Munoz, then his own teammate Conor Daly before the top Chevrolet driver, Charlie Kimball, clocked in fifth in the No. 42 Tresiba car at 227.477 mph.

With Pippa Mann in 10th, Coyne had three cars in the top 10 – same as Andretti Autosport – while Ganassi and Penske had two cars apiece.

Race runs and full-tank runs dominated the proceedings, and it was still tough to gauge whether the Chevrolet runners have shown their full hand.

The no-tow speeds were a bit quicker than they have been this week, at 225 mph and change. Will Power led those charts in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at 225.381 mph; Graham Rahal was second at 225.321.

Honda’s engine was again a talking point. Ryan Hunter-Reay sustained the second failure of the month (Mikhail Aleshin) heading into Turn 3 with a couple hours left in the session in the No. 28 DHL Honda. He’ll switch to a new one that he’ll use for the race.

Meanwhile the lump in the back of Spencer Pigot’s built up new tub, the No. 16 RLL/Mi-Jack/Manitowoc Honda, got an installation lap in the final 15 minutes of the six-hour practice. Pigot didn’t complete a standard time but he did make it out to check.

Times are below. For Fast Friday, the boost increases from 130 kPa to 140 kPa and combined with teams beginning to trim out for qualifying, speeds should significantly increase well north of 230 mph.

Speeds are below.

Full Speeds

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No-Tow Speeds

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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.