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Hunter-Reay: IndyCar’s 2018 car ‘heading in right direction’

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With the Verizon IndyCar Series a little under two weeks away from its first scheduled test of its new 2018 universal aero kit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ryan Hunter-Reay is pleased with the car’s near final renderings and potential “shield” addition.

The 36-year-old American, the 2012 series and 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion, has been a proponent of enhanced cockpit safety for some time and looks forward to seeing how the series gets on with its initial tests over the next couple months.

“I’ve only seen the preliminary mockups, but I think it’s heading in the right direction,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports on Wednesday.

“That’s something we need to put at the forefront. I love the new car challenge, getting behind the wheel and figuring it all out.”

Hunter-Reay has a long-term contract to drive Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 car – currently a Honda – through the 2020 season and will be one of the drivers who will likely lead the development of the new kit later this fall once testing ramps up.

As INDYCAR considers the potential of adding a shield design to the existing Dallara DW12 tub, with potential testing to begin later this fall according to Motorsport.com, Hunter-Reay described the challenges that come with that.

“The problem of a canopy is retrofitting one to an existing car, which is more difficult than building a car around it,” he explained.

“And then you have the cooling issue. At Iowa, we’re racing on a 92-degree day, and if the canopy would be up too high, there’s no air to the cockpit, so there’s cooling things they have to get around.

“But we have the best people in sport. I’m glad it’s progressing. I’ll say that I’m looking forward to ending the aero kit era.”

The 2018 car is an exciting new prospect for Hunter-Reay to think about since any championship hopes for 2017 are dashed – again – after a consistent spate of bad luck. Mechanical failures and incidents not of his own making have dropped one of the best overall drivers in the series to an unrepresentative 14th place in points.

Hunter-Reay is winless since Pocono in August 2015, a stretch of 28 races, and heads to Toronto this weekend looking to build off a third place finish this past weekend at Iowa.

Hunter-Reay noted how difficult street races are to call from the strategy box. Ray Gosselin, his race engineer, also doubles as RHR’s strategist.

“With street course strategies, I do not envy that,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “It’s unreal how tight the competition it is. And sometimes on a street course, from the car, you have no idea where you are in the big picture.

“In the long term, big picture side of it, I think we may need to address it as a sport. It can be so complicated as a sport. This guy’s leading, this guy’s second, there’s good battles for position, and then the yellow comes out and field gets completely flopped.

“I have friends who have watched IndyCar racing for years – and there’s times I have to explain it to them. It’s a complicated side of the sport, and sometimes it’s hard to follow on that side.”

Beyond his racing commitments, Hunter-Reay will co-host The RALLY Toronto on Thursday night with James Hinchcliffe, a party with proceeds benefitting RHR’s charity, Racing for Cancer. Hunter-Reay said this event is similar to The Yellow Party, a Racing for Cancer charity event held frequently in the past.

The two have partnered together on various philanthropic events before, Hinchcliffe often taking a week out of his winter to support Hunter-Reay’s Racing for Cancer event in December. About the only thing Hunter-Reay dreads is attempting to pronounce the foundation Hinchcliffe supports, the Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation of Canada (WMFC).

Hunter-Reay, and the rest of the 21-car field, compete in Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto this weekend. Qualifying coverage airs Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with live race coverage from 3 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC.

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.