INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Michael Andretti’s driver lineup is locked and loaded for May.
He already had two race winners, two of IndyÇar’s rising stars and his own son, Marco, geared up. Now he’s added 2016 Indianapolis 500 pole winner James Hinchcliffe to the roster.
Andretti Autosport’s team owner announced Wednesday that Hinchcliffe will drive the No. 29 Honda for three races this season — the two in Indy and a June race at Texas Motor Speedway with the potential for more opportunities in the future.
“We’ve run six cars before,” Andretti said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “And when you put a driver like James in a car, that’s like another bullet in the gun. We’ve got our six-shooter now.”
Andretti’s sixth car will be sponsored by Indianapolis-based Genesys, which sells customer experience and call center technology.
The addition of Hinchcliffe should resonate with fans, too.
The popular Canadian had been scrambling to find races to run in 2020 after learning late last year he was out at Arrow McLaren SP with one year left on his contract. Hinchcliffe spent five seasons with Sam Schmidt’s team but became a casualty of Schmidt’s new alliance with McLaren.
In January, Hinchcliffe cobbled together enough funding to run the road race at Indy as well as the 500 but needed a team to give him a seat. Hinchcliffe wound up reuniting with Andretti, where he worked for three seasons and earned his first series win in 2013. Plus, he added a third race.
Hinchcliffe should be a perfect fit in a crowded garage that already consisted of Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 winner; Alexander Rossi, the 500 champion in 2016; 19-year-old Colton Herta, a two-time winner as a rookie in 2019; 25-year-old Zach Veach, who has eight top 10 finishes in 34 starts as a full-time IndyCar driver; and five-time pole winner Marco Andretti. The Andretti team also has a technical alliance with Michael Shank Racing for the entry being fielded for Jack Harvey.
Hinchcliffe is expected to make his first appearance at the speedway during an April 29 test.
“I know a lot of the engineering staff, I’m personal friends with the drivers on the team and I’m going to be very committed to getting myself up to speed so I can hit the track running in May,” Hinchcliffe said. “I think one of the most important things is come to Indianapolis with a purpose and I think this team does that every May. No matter how many cars they have, they make sure they are all competitive.”
Hinchcliffe qualified second twice and ninth in his three previous 500 starts with Andretti but finished in the top 20 only once during those years — a career best sixth in 2012.
In 2015, his first year with Schmidt, Hinchcliffe suffered a life-threatening leg injury in a crash during practice. He missed the rest of the season. When he returned to the track in May 2016, Hinchcliffe claimed his first — and only — career pole. He finished seventh in the race.
Two years later, Hinchcliffe shockingly failed to qualify for the race after getting bumped off the traditional 33-car starting grid. Some fans wanted Hinchcliffe to buy his way into the race, but no deal materialized and Hinchcliffe contended he didn’t want to take anyone else’s ride.
He returned last year and barely surviving Bump Day with the No. 32 starting spot in his final May race with Schmidt.
Hinchcliffe said he wants to keep taking his shots at Indy.
“Drivers want to win this race so badly it doesn’t matter how many times you knocked down,” he said. “You keep getting back up.”
Both sides are hoping the three-race deal is just the start.
Andretti acknowledged that with good results and more funding, Hinchcliffe could potentially add a couple more races this season as talks continue about putting together a larger schedule in 2021.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while now, how to get James back onto our team,” Andretti said. “He called us a while back and we said, ‘Yeah, let’s make this happen.’ One of our goals is getting James back to our team full-time.”
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