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Aleshin, Sirotkin confirmed among others for Le Mans

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The 24 Hours of Le Mans grid, the marquee event of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, is nearly at completion following a couple other lineup announcements in the last two days.

Mikhail Aleshin, who was nominated as SMP Racing’s driver for No. 27 Dallara P217 Gibson chassis on the initial entry list, has been confirmed for what will be his third straight Le Mans with the team.

Aleshin is also involved in BR Engineering and Dallara’s testing work for a 2018 LMP1 chassis. The last two years at Le Mans, he ran in the team’s BR01 chassis, but the car was not one of the four eligible constructors confirmed for the new 2017 LMP2 regulations.

“We’re working to produce our own car for 2018… I’m one of the test or development drivers. I don’t know yet (Le Mans)… but maybe,” Aleshin told NBC Sports of his sports car program for this year at the Phoenix test in February.

“For me, the main thing this year is concentrate on two things. One is IndyCar. And then I have a very similar responsibility in taking care of our LMP1 project with SMP, as that will be very big.”

He’s the third full-season Verizon IndyCar Series driver confirmed for this year’s Le Mans, along with Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais, who are returning to two of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTs. NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who like Bourdais also won class last year at Le Mans (Bourdais co-won in GTE-Pro and Bell co-won in GTE-Am), is also in the field to defend that title with Scuderia Corsa in what is now a Ferrari 488 GTE.

Aleshin’s co-drivers will be Sergey Sirotkin and Victor Shaitar. Sirotkin, Renault’s reserve driver, will make his Le Mans debut while Shaitar will also be back for his fourth straight Le Mans with SMP.

Shaitar, Kirill Ladygin and Vitaly Petrov were on the podium at Le Mans last year, finishing third in the No. 37 BR01 Nissan.

In the GTE-Am class, one of the remaining TBA slots has also been filled. The Beechdean AMR No. 99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 will see Andrew Howard share the car with Ross Gunn and Oliver Bryant.

Additionally in GTE-Am, JMW Motorsport is now listed to run a Ferrari 488 GTE at Le Mans instead of the venerable Ferrari F458 Italia. No drivers are listed yet for the No. 84 car although Robert Smith, Rory Butcher and Jody Fannin are listed for the car’s European Le Mans Series entry.

Further cars without their lineups for Le Mans confirmed at the moment include the No. 22 DragonSpeed-operated, G-Drive Racing entered Oreca 07 Gibson (Leo Roussel not yet confirmed alongside Memo Rojas and Ryo Hirakawa), the No. 40 Graff Oreca in LMP2 and Nos. 88 and 93 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSRs in GTE-Am.

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.