INDYCAR Photo by Stephen King
INDYCAR Photo by Stephen King

Arrow McLaren Racing SP expected to name drivers O’Ward, Askew

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When Arrow McLaren SP announces its two drivers in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, youth will not only be served, it will be showcased.

In an expected announcement later this week, Arrow McLaren Racing SP will introduce the last two Indy Lights Series champions as its IndyCar lineup for next season.

That is expected to include Pato O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion, and last year’s Indy Lights title winner, Oliver Askew.

It also will be announced that popular veteran driver James Hinchcliffe has been released from the team.

Hinchcliffe has a close working relationship with Honda, including commercials for Honda Canada and American Honda. He was expected to be retained by the Chevrolet-backed Arrow McLaren Racing SP for 2020 when the team’s merger was announced on Aug. 9.

RACER.com reported the impending news Monday night. NBCSports.com made several calls very early Tuesday morning to see how the new arrangement takes shape.

With Askew and O’Ward, Arrow McLaren Racing SP is doubling down on its youth movement. It’s similar to the move McLaren’s Formula One team made by hiring teenager Lando Norris to drive one of its two F1 entries this season.

The original plan was to pair a young driver with a veteran, such as Hinchcliffe. Arrow McLaren Racing SP originally pursued 19-year-old Colton Herta, who won two races and three poles in 2019 as a rookie for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Andretti Autosport successfully put together a deal to make him the team’s fifth full-time driver.

Pato O’Ward

McLaren Chief Executive Officer Zak Brown has kept an open dialogue with O’Ward since shortly after the 20-year-old Mexican’s deal collapsed with Harding Steinbrenner Racing before the 2019 season.

O’Ward struck a deal with Carlin for a few IndyCar races, but when he was named as one of the Red Bull drivers in May, O’Ward focused on making it to Formula One.

O’Ward left Red Bull earlier this month but was confident he had a path to a great ride in IndyCar.

Askew dominated the 2019 Indy Lights Series after successfully climbing the Road to Indy Ladder system. Askew won the championship in his only Indy Lights season with Andretti Autosport, winning seven of 18 races (including seven poles and 15 podiums).

Askew (pictured at the top) turns 23 on December 12. McLaren officials have had interest in him all season.

Askew tested with Chip Ganassi Racing during the summer and was under consideration for a third seat with the Honda-backed team before it chose to sign former Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Marcus Ericsson of Sweden.

Hinchcliffe was told he was off the team Sunday night, according to RACER.

The 32-year-old driver from Oakville, Ontario is among the most popular drivers in IndyCar because of his engaging personality, which landed him an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2016. He finished second to Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez.

Hinchcliffe also was featured in ESPN “The Magazine” in its “Body Issue.”

He has also triumphed over adversity, including a near-fatal crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis 500 practice on May 18, 2015. Hinchcliffe nearly bled to death when his left leg was pierced by parts from the car.

He returned to win the pole for the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 but failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in 2018.

Out of a ride at the beginning of November, there aren’t any options currently available on any of the Honda teams in IndyCar for Hinchcliffe.

Team owner Bobby Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has cooled on adding a third car unless a significant amount of sponsorship can be arranged. Dale Coyne Racing is expected to retain Santino Ferrucci as its second driver, paired with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais.

Last week, Ferrucci’s engineer, Michael Cannon, left Coyne’s team to join Chip Ganassi Racing, where he likely will be paired with five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.

Hinchcliffe has overcome much bigger personal adversity than this but to be hunting a ride entering November creates a massive career challenge.

Much more remains to this story, and NBCSports.com will continue to follow it.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).