Formula E/LAT

Sam Bird wins frantic Formula E season-opener in Hong Kong

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Sam Bird made a flying start to the new Formula E season in Hong Kong on Saturday by taking his sixth victory in the series despite being hit with a drive-through penalty following a crash in the pit lane.

Bird started the race second for DS Virgin Racing behind pole-sitter Jean-Eric Vergne and retained position for much of the opening half of the race, albeit interrupted for 30 minutes following a red flag when the track was blocked by a crash.

Bird stayed close to Vergne before making his move for the lead shortly before the car changes, and was quickly able to pull out a lead.

However, the Briton put his win hopes in doubt after locking up when trying to turn into his pit garage, causing his car to go straight on and into some nearby pit equipment, narrowly avoiding some bystanders.

Bird completed his car swap and emerged from the pits still leading, but was hit with a drive-through penalty for having made the change outside of the garage.

After quickly gapping the struggling Vergne, Bird took his penalty and came back out still in front of his former teammate, with Mahindra’s Nick Heidfeld sitting just behind in third.

Bird put his foot down to re-establish his earlier advantage, eventually crossing the line more than 11 seconds clear to claim the first win of the 2017/18 season.

“That was a really crazy race. I’m finding it hard to process what happened really,” Bird said.

“It’s not often you win having a drive-through penalty in Formula E. Firstly I’ve got to thank the team. We thought it was going to be really difficult coming into this year.

“The likes of Audi have made a big step, Renault still obviously being strong which makes Techeetah strong, Mahindra were fantastic last year, other teams have caught up…

“So we thought it was going to be tough to dominate round one, but I’ll take that.”

Vergne held on to second place ahead of Heidfeld despite struggling with a lack of radio and telemetry, while Nelson Piquet Jr. matched Jaguar’s best result in Formula E on debut for the team in P4.

Daniel Abt led Audi’s charge in fifth after teammate and defending series champion Lucas di Grassi sustained early damage, causing him to drop back and fail to recover.

Antonio Felix da Costa finished sixth for Andretti ahead of leading debutant Edoardo Mortara in seventh, while Alex Lynn, Nicolas Prost and Luca Filippi rounded out the points-paying positions.

The new Formula E season continues with the second leg of the Hong Kong double-header on Sunday.

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.