Photo: Bryan Herta Rallysport

Red Bull GRC: Post-Dallas win, Sandell, Herta look for more in Daytona

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Speed never eluded Patrik Sandell and the Kobalt Tools Bryan Herta Rallysport team in 2015, but luck often did.

But Sandell had both – plus a rocket start – to help launch him to his first win in 2016 in the third round of the Red Bull Global Rallycross season at Dallas a couple weeks ago.

The driver of the No. 18 Ford Fiesta ST launched strongly off the line and that was enough to break the early season run of success for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team, which had dominated the first two races in Phoenix plus the various preliminaries in Dallas.

As Sandell explained, nailing the start was critical at Dallas given the lack of passing opportunities.

“The start is so critical and you have to make a good launch as part of the show,” Sandell told NBC Sports. “So we really tried to find the perfect launch. We failed in our semifinal, we went too far over edge. But in the final we made it perfect, and it was one of the best launches in the field.

“We tried to work with all the details all the time. These cars are so extreme; we tried to go down a road with a different diff setting to make the car go faster. But then in the past, we’d broke driveshafts after the jump. After that, we went with a better direction on the car.”

Sandell’s team only has the one car to work on now; the Herta rally effort has downsized from three cars down to one this year. Austin Dyne and Colette Davis, who ran out of the BHR stable last year, are under different teams this year in GRC Supercars and GRC Lites, respectively.

The single focus has helped Sandell early on in 2016, with final round finishes of second, fourth and first thus far in three races.

“It’s been good from the team standpoint. Last year, with it being the team’s first year in Rallycross, it was busy with three cars at same time. I think as a team, I think this is maybe what they should have done form the beginning. The feeling is we’ll do this thing, perfectly for one car now, to extend the program.”

Sandell also described the offseason tweaks he and the team have done to meld.

“We tried to go through everything to see where we could improve,” he said. “We have one year now together as a team. They know me better as a person and driver. They know what to ask for. We communicate much better.

“We tried to take some weight off the car, and try to find better balance. It’s just all small details. We were fast last year as well, but you have to find the small details.”

Sandell and Herta as a collective unit are on a bit of a hot streak at the moment, Herta’s driver Alexander Rossi having scored a famous victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500. Herta will be able to attend this weekend’s races in Daytona after IndyCar conflicts at both of the first two weekends.

Meanwhile Sandell was at his first Indianapolis 500 and related his experience.

“He’ll try to do most races doing forward,” Sandell said of Herta. “He had fantastic experience when it comes to asphalt and that part of the track. I know it on the dirt section! Bring more speed. He’s been proud so far. ‘Just keep winning,’ he said!

“I was there the whole race. It was the first Indy 500 race for me ever. To be there 100 years, and with Bryan and everyone winning, was incredible. It was fantastic first laps and last 50 laps… but the 100 laps in between was long! I’m used to such short spurts. The last 50 laps were just insane. But we saw Rossi back in eight or ninth. Then everyone had to refuel, and he came through; it was so cool to see him win.”

Sandell had a double DNF in Daytona last year so should undoubtedly fare better this go-around.

“It looks like all the asphalt sections more or less there in the same design,” he said. “The dirt section seems to be a bit faster. When you have the tight hairpins, it stacks up the whole field.

“The field then gets stretched out after the corner. This track should create tighter racing. Let’s see how we go, as it’s definitely a cool track to run on!”

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.