Hinchcliffe, Wickens announce cool test ride swap (VIDEO)

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Longtime friends and Canadian countrymen James Hinchcliffe, 30, and Robert Wickens, 27, hatched a plan this offseason that will see the pair of drivers swap rides for a day.

Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, will get to drive Wickens’ No. 6 HWA AG Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM car in Vallelunga, Italy on March 17 after he makes his first IndyCar start of the new year at St. Petersburg on March 12.

Meanwhile Wickens will have the opportunity to sample Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar for the first time at Sebring International Raceway’s short course next week on February 28, and return to his open-wheel roots.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 18: Robert Wickens of Canada in the pits during the 2nd official practice session at the New Zealand round of the A1GP World Cup Of Motorsport at the Taupo motorsport Park on January 18, 2008 in Taupo, New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 18: Robert Wickens of Canada in the pits during the 2nd official practice session at the New Zealand round of the A1GP World Cup Of Motorsport at the Taupo motorsport Park on January 18, 2008 in Taupo, New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

This test for Wickens will occur a day before SPM runs rookies Luis Michael Dorrbecker and Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani on March 1, in their maiden tests as well.

The cliff notes, “PG” version, of the idea is below.

“We were on the beach in Turks drinking… ginger ales… and we thought it’d be great to drive each other’s cars,” Wickens said in a video released today confirming the switch.

You can see a video of Wickens training at PitFit Training in Indianapolis, below.

Wickens was arguably one of open-wheel’s best prospects – perhaps even slightly higher rated than Hinchcliffe – as the two were growing in their careers. They’ve competed as teammates for Team Canada in the 2007-2008 A1GP season and as rivals, Wickens with Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe with Sierra Sierra Enterprises, in the 2007 Formula Atlantic season. Wickens also made a couple later cameo appearances in North America thereafter before moving to Europe, supported by Red Bull, where he won the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 World Series (a year after Hinchcliffe’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate, Mikhail Aleshin, did).

Despite being on Formula 1’s doorstep and testing with the Virgin team, he never got a proper chance at the series. Instead, he’s gone onto race-winning and championship-contending success with Mercedes in DTM.

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10: James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 10: James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Incidentally, both drivers were back in North America racing at the start of this year, in the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona. Hinchcliffe competed in the Prototype class for Mazda Motorsports while Wickens was in the Prototype Challenge class with Starworks Motorsport.

“You have to take it just as seriously as one of your own races,” Hinchcliffe told NBC Sports at the time. “It’s crazy how much effort goes into this. I really see that sort of month of May fever around all the IMSA teams when you pull up to Daytona for the month of January, so to speak, because you start at the Roar in the beginning, then thrash on the cars for two weeks and then you come back and do a 24-hour race.”

Now, the longtime friends will be putting in their first days in their new cars in a unique ride swap opportunity.

“This whole thing is something that Robbie and I have joked about for a long time because, frankly, we weren’t sure it was ever going to happen,” Hinchcliffe said. “We both had an interest in kind of sharing our series with each other, and we kept talking about it. We decided we were going to try and take a swing at it, talked to all parties involved and amazingly it all worked out.

“It’s just a cool story; you’ve got two kids that grew up racing go-karts in Ontario,” Hinchcliffe added. “Fast forward a decade and a half, and here we are both professional racing drivers. To be able to get to do this, and share it with each other, is going to be awesome.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”