Photo: SH Rallycross

Full Red Bull GRC season a tantalizing prospect for Ward, SH Rallycross

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For Jeff Ward, getting into this year’s full Red Bull Global Rallycross season in the No. 07 SH Rallycross Ford Fiesta is a huge piece of excitement for driver, team and the series.

Ward will run the car that will run with MET-Rx primary sponsorship support, with an additional commitment from WIX Filters, and 360fly adorning two parts of the car all season.

Now 54 years old but in a case where age is just a number, the veteran open-wheel and motorcycle and off-road truck ace and champion will embark on his first full Red Bull GRC campaign in 2016, and looks forward to a big amount of success.

Ward described how the deal came together with SH Rallycross, the team co-owned by James “Sulli” Sullivan. Ward ran the 360fly colors with Chip Ganassi Racing in two race weekends last year, at Daytona and Washington, D.C.

“Last year went well with my two drives,” Ward told NBC Sports. “I’d always wanted to do rally from the X Games. It’s kind of tough to get in because you had to run Rally America and get invited. But this was always the niche.

“I did the off-road truck stuff; I did the two races last year. I put the feelers out and talked to a few teams. I met with ‘Sulli’ and everything fell in place. It worked out great.”

Ward described how many people he’s actually familiar with in this world.

“Even though it looks like a new team on the outside it’s a great group of guys I’ve known forever,” Ward explained. “It’s a solid group. I’ve known Jimmy Vasser from my IndyCar days, ‘Sulli’ was in Motocross, Dennis Reinbold in IndyCar.

“Between them and our partners they’re ecstatic about this series and where it is going.

“360fly for instance is very cool. I’ve worked with them for a long time. They’re a great company and it was nice to bring them on board. Then add SH Rallycross having MET-Rx and WIX back again, and they’ve been there, it makes for a great combination.

“I’m grateful for where this team is at and how well it did last year. They made every main event last year, which is not easy to do.”

Indeed with Nelson Piquet Jr. in the main season and Andreas Bakkerud in the non-points X Games, SH Rallycross did what no other team did in making every final event of the season. Piquet won at Washington, D.C. for his first Red Bull GRC win and finished fourth in last year’s points standings.

Although Ward has driven a wide range of machinery, adapting to the Red Bull GRC beasts took a bit of time.

“It’s pretty impressive. These cars are definitely impressive cars,” he said. “They do what you want them to do. I’ve never driven a four-wheel drive car before until Daytona. I raced IndyCar for five to six years and those things accelerate pretty damn strong! But on a standing start, the rally cars are extremely impressive.”

Ward loves doubleheaders and thinks he should do well at them this year. Additionally he feels in great shape heading into the year because he’s still been active.

“Yep, the last year full-time in IndyCar was with Chip (Ganassi) in ‘02. But I did two to three seasons in Lucas Oil Pro 2 off truck seasons. Maybe 4-5 in Super Motos. Mountain bikes. Six-hour endurance races. So I haven’t stopped,” Ward said.

“I’ve been busy doing stuff. You have to stay in great shape.

“I still have that fire of wanting to win the championship. I’ve worked really hard to get in the hunt day one. That’s all I’ve done is race to win championships.

“It’s not just one race as a whole. At end of the season, you don’t want to think you’ve lost one or two points somewhere.”

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.