Leena Gade: Photo courtesy Audi Sport

James Hinchcliffe’s lead engineer, Leena Gade, has left team after just five races

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As Schmidt Peterson Motorsports contemplates where it goes from here now that James Hinchcliffe will miss Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, it will go forward without race engineer Leena Gade, hired just five months ago.

According to a team statement, Gade and SPM have parted ways after just five Verizon IndyCar Series races. It was Gade’s first foray into the world of IndyCar and oval track racing.

“After many ongoing conversations and the decision that the relationship was not conducive for either party, the agreement was made to part ways with one of our lead race engineers, Leena Gade. Everyone at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports wishes nothing but the absolute best for Leena.”

The team said it will have no further comment.

Gade came to SPM with a very successful racing resume, which included three wins in the Le Mans 24 Hour race. Bringing her onboard gave the Hinchcliffe team an air of excitement when it was first announced in January. She was the first female race engineer in IndyCar history.

But after Hinchcliffe – who sat on the pole for last year’s Indy 500 – failed to qualify this past weekend for Sunday’s race, a change in direction apparently was deemed necessary.

Both sides decided Wednesday to go separate ways just days before the same Indy 500 Hinchcliffe will not participate in.

A search for a new race engineer to replace Gade at SPM is reportedly already underway.

But SPM will likely find it hard to attract someone of high caliber and experience at this point in the season given that the Indy 500 is only the sixth event on the 17-race IndyCar schedule, and most current engineers are locked into contracts with their teams through at least the rest of the current season, if not longer.

According to one media report, the team has named technical director Todd Malloy to temporarily take over Gade’s role until a permanent replacement can be found.

Hinchcliffe tweeted Wednesday that he and SPM had given up on trying to make the race, after it was apparent none of the drivers already qualified would give up their seat, or that the price tag to buy a seat in a qualified car was potentially too steep.

Hinchcliffe, whose best finish thus far this season was third at Alabama, is currently fifth in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings. With the Indy 500 offering double the normal amount of points than a regular in-season race, it’s likely Hinchcliffe will take a major points hit and drop in the rankings by virtue of not being in Sunday’s race.

Leaving SPM isn’t the only departure Gade has made. It appears she has also deleted her Twitter account.

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Christopher Bell survives caution-filled Chili Bowl Prelim

TeeJay Crawford
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Christopher Bell survived the most caution-filled Feature of the week to win Thursday’s preliminary night at the 33rd Annual Chili Bowl. His ability to hold the lead on restarts helped lock Bell into his seventh Saturday A-Feature since 2013.

“I pretty much suck on restarts. I do better when I get into a rhythm,” said Christopher Bell on twitter.

Bell started the feature in third place behind Danny Stratton and Jerry Coons Jr. He took the lead on the first official lap of the race, but not until after two Lap 1 cautions.

The Oklahoma native held the lead through the remaining 24 laps and eight cautions until being challenged by Shane Golobic and CJ Leary on the final laps. Golobic briefly made it past him though Turns 3 and 4 of the final lap. Bell regained control in 1 and 2 to claim the checkers.

“It was a lot busier than what I wanted them to be. Shane definitely made a race out of it and I hope the last four laps were a good show. It was a lot of fun … well it was fun because I won but if I hadn’t won it wouldn’t have been much fun,” Bell said regarding the final laps.

Golobic earned the second transfer into Saturday’s A-Main after starting to the outside of Bell.

Leary completed the podium with the pole sitter Stratton finished fourth.

Josh Most battled through the B after a hard crash in his heat. He rebounded to transfer to the A and drove from 22nd to fifth.

With the throng of cautions at the start and finish of the race, the goal quickly became survival. Only 15 of 24 entries completed the full feature. Notable DNF’s included Ryan Bernal who started fifth, Coons, who started on the front row and Thomas Meseraull in 15th.

NASCAR’s Justin Allgaier finished 13th and will have a long day ahead of him on Saturday.

Friday Jan. 18 will be the final Qualifying night for the 33rd annual Chili Bowl Nationals.

MORE: Rico Abreu wins Chili Bowl Night 3 
MORE: Kyle Larson wins Chili Bowl Night 2

Thursday’s Results

1. Christopher Bell
2. Shane Golobic
3. CJ Leary
4. Danny Stratton
5. Josh Most
6. Austin Brown
7. Tracy Hines
8. Casey Shuman
9. Kyle Cummins
10. Andrew Felker
11. Austin O’Dell
12. Seth Carlson
13. Justin Allgaier
14. Chase Johnson
15. Johnny Herrera
16. Ryan Bernal
17. Jerry Coons Jr.
18. Matt Sherrell
19. Thomas Meseraull
20. Jake Morgan
21. Andrew Deal
22. Kevin Bayer
23. Kaleb Currie
24. Joe B. Miller