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Dixon tops Saturday practice at Long Beach

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Scott Dixon was back atop the speed charts during the third practice for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Dixon’s quick time of 1:07.1348 came in the final minutes of the session, making it the second time he’s led practice this weekend (he topped opening practice on Friday).

Ryan Hunter-Reay made it a Honda 1-2, also turning his fast lap in the final minutes. Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, and Takuma Sato ran third, fourth, and fifth respectively.

Of note, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais had an awkward start to the day, making light contact with the barriers in turn three. However, only the front wing suffered damage, and it was light damage at that, allowing Bourdais to quickly rejoin the session after brief repairs. He ended the session in ninth.

Two other drivers experienced hardships during third practice. Tony Kanaan suffered mechanical gremlins, which actually kept him from running for most of the session. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver suffered a sensor issue that the team had trouble diagnosing. However, they did manage to make repairs and Kanaan ran five laps in the final minutes to record the 15th best time. “We had a sensor issue that I wasn’t aware of. It took a long time but the guys did a great job to get me out for five laps,” he told IndyCar radio afterward. “It’s not good when you’re struggling. But great job by NTT Data guys. (I) wasn’t expecting to be out this session.”

James Hinchliffe, too, had problems of his own after leading much of the session before finishing up in fourth. He ran wide into the turn one runoff area and rejoined running slowly near the end of practice, though it was unclear if he had a problem or was being cautious.

Practice 3 times are below. Qualifying begins at 6:30 p.m. ET (3:30 PT and local time), and airs an hour later at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT) on NBCSN.

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.