Momentum can be powerful in sports, and James Hinchcliffe appears to have it heading into the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
The 34-year-old Canadian was confirmed Tuesday to return full time to Andretti Autosport, the Indianapolis-based team where he finished as a part-timer last season and had some of the best years of his INDYCAR SERIES career nearly a decade ago.
Hinchcliffe finished a career-best eighth in his first two seasons with Michael Andretti’s team – in 2012 and 2013 – and earned the first three of his six career victories. Last year, he posted one of his best and most consistent runs in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, placing seventh. That was his third career top-10 finish in the “500,” two of which came with the Andretti organization. His best finish of sixth came with Andretti in 2012.
Now, Hinchcliffe is armed to drive the No. 29 Genesys Honda alongside fellow full-time teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. Hunter-Reay and Rossi have won the “500,” and Hinchcliffe captured the 2016 pole on the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Herta is a rising star, having finished third in the season standings last year. Hunter-Reay is a former series champion, and Rossi has finished as high as second.
Considering Andretti Autosport’s talent and culture, Hinchcliffe is confident any one of the entries – plus Marco Andretti, who will return to the team at Indy -- can be in the running for a series championship. And of course, the team’s “500” history speaks for itself: Five wins by five different drivers.
“There’s nothing stopping us from saying we should be running up front right from the drop of the green flag at Barber,” said Hinchcliffe, a reference to the April 18 race at Barber Motorsports Park, the first event of 17 scheduled. “Podiums, race wins. I’d love to see all the cars up there running with a shot at the championship with three or four rounds to go.”
Hinchcliffe spent three of his first four INDYCAR SERIES seasons with Andretti Autosport, scoring 15 top-five finishes. He joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2015, the year he was badly injured in an accident at IMS.
Hinchcliffe’s stint with SPM came to an end after the 2019 season, and he turned back to his old friend, Michael Andretti, who had tried on other occasions to get Hinchcliffe back in team colors. With COVID-19 shutting down the first part of last season, Hinchcliffe made his return to Andretti in the first race of the season, held June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Hinchcliffe competed in only six of the 14 races last season, but he was usually around the Andretti team when he wasn’t working on INDYCAR telecasts for NBC. He had his eye on this full-time opportunity for 2021, and the deal was secured with 10-race primary sponsorship from Genesys, which has offices a stone’s throw from team headquarters and nearly within sight of Hinchcliffe’s home.
“We did a little reunion tour last year, but now we’re fully back together,” said Hinchcliffe, who qualified fourth for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “For me with Genesys on board (and) being with Andretti Autosport, it’s just incredible.”
Andretti was asked to play the what-if game – as in, what if Hinchcliffe hadn’t left the team following the 2014 season. Andretti considered the question but understood what little value speculating on it offered.
“Yeah, unfortunately things didn’t work out, (and) we had to go our separate ways there for a little bit,” he said. “Yeah, it would have been fun to keep James within the team. It is what it is. We’re just happy to be back together. Hopefully we still have some more – a bunch more – wins together.”
Hinchcliffe has six career INDYCAR SERIES race wins: three on short ovals (twice at Iowa Speedway) and three on street circuits. Hinchcliffe won his first career race in St. Petersburg in 2013 driving an Andretti car.
“To steal a line from (Rossi), we were on a break, but we’re back together now, and that’s what matters,” Hinchcliffe said. “I still think there’s a lot of opportunity.
“As Michael said, I still certainly feel like I’ve got a lot of racing left in me. This is a team that can get it done with championships and wins and ‘500s.’ We just want to see that orange (No.) 29 Genesys car covered in milk in May (and) hopefully covered in confetti at the end of the season.”