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.”

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.