• James Hinchcliffe

Hinchcliffe Doesn’t Miss a Race as 2020 IndyCar Season Set to Start

OSCAAR president offers help to hungry; NASCAR, F1 schedules coming together and other news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald June 5, 2020
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It’s funny how life works out sometimes.

Early last winter, our James Hinchcliffe was on top of the world. He was newly married to his high school sweetheart, he had a degree of financial comfort from years of racing in the IndyCar big league and finishing second on TV’s Dancing with the Stars, and he’d been assured his ride with Arrow McLaren SP (formerly Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) was safe and secure for the 2020 season.

Life, really, was good.

And then the rug was pulled right out from under him. Other than his marriage, the most important thing in his life disappeared, just like that. He got a phone call telling him he was no longer needed in the cockpit of his Arrow McLaren racing car. Thanks for everything but buzz off, was pretty much the tone of the message.

A measure of a person, racing driver or whatever, is how he or she battles back from adversity. Anybody who knows Hinchcliffe would not be surprised to know that he didn’t take the bad news lying down and after a period of licking his wounds, got up, got out and got at it.

He found sponsorship from Genesys, which calls itself the “global leader in cloud customer experience and contact centre solutions,” to back him for three races – the two May races at Indianapolis Motor Speeding, including the 500, and one at Texas Motor Speedway, where Genesys would be title sponsor. So, as things stood initially, Hinchcliffe wouldn’t see action till the fifth race of the season, in mid-May.

But the coronavirus crisis got in the way. The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule has been revised and, as luck would have it, what originally was the ninth race of the season is now the first. Hinchcliffe will be driving the Genesys car Saturday in the season opener at Texas Motor Speedway.

And then, his second start will come in what is now down to be the second race of the season, the GMR Grand Prix on the road course at the Indianapolis Speedway where another Canadian, Dalton Kellett of Toronto, will make his IndyCar debut too, driving for A.J. Foyt.

A guy who was out of work last winter won’t have missed a race in 2020, as things stand now. (Hinch’s other start, the Indianapolis 500, was moved from May until late August. He was never down to run the Honda Indy Toronto but that was made moot by the COVID-19 lockdown in Ontario that eventually saw the race removed from the 2020 schedule.)

“I am pumped to see Genesys as the title sponsor of the Genesys 600 race here at the Texas Motor Speedway,” said Hinchcliffe, in a release.

“This is a world-class company that is laser-focused on building their brand around myself, Andretti Autosport and IndyCar racing,” said the Oakville native, who will be driving the No. 29 Genesys Honda for Andretti Autosport.

“Adding this (race) to their program further solidifies their dedication to moving as fast as the race pace here at the track. It’s really exciting to see.”

There will be no spectators in Texas, as has been the case with the NASCAR races run recently. And there won’t be spectators at the GMR Grand Prix in July, or the NASCAR Xfinity Series race that’s to be part of a NASCAR-IndyCar double-header at IMS the same weekend. There has not been an announcement made re spectators at the Indy 500, although IndyCar hopes that will be the case.

If you have Rogers Sportsnet NOW, you can watch practice from Texas Saturday at 1:30 p.m. If you have Sportsnet 1, you can watch qualifying at 5 p.m. The race, which will be on Sportsnet360 as well as NOW and 1, can be seen at 8 p.m. It can also be seen on the NBC station in Buffalo, WGR, also at 8 p.m, All times Eastern.

Oh, one last thing: this is a one-day show. Everybody will go in together, practice and qualify together, and race together. Masks must be worn and social distancing will be maintained as much as is possible.

Go James!

OTHER RACING NOTES

This year is the 30th anniversary of OSCAAR, the rocket-quick racing series that has thrilled fans throughout the province since 1990. There’s lots about the series on its website, oscaar.ca, but there’s something else there too, a heartfelt message from the series president, Dave Gainforth. Writes Dave:

“As the weeks go on, the lockdowns continue, and people lose their income, there may be people out there who simply cannot afford the day to day necessities.

“If you are concerned about you or your child not being able to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner feel free to PM (private msg) me with no fear, guilt or shame. I will do what I can to help. A box of cereal, milk, bread, eggs, cheese, jam, whatever it may be, I will do my best to help.

Do not feel embarrassed as we all need help at times and we’re all in this together.

“If you can help one person feed their family during this time, even just one meal, then copy and paste to your page to let others know they can come to you for support.”

Thank you, Dave.

James Hinchcliffe

Besides Hinchciffe, the virus has helped another veteran IndyCar driver. Tony Kanaan finished the 2019 season with 317 consecutive starts. His contract with Foyt Racing for 2020 is for five oval races. If the season had started on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla, in March, as scheduled, the streak would have ended. Now, his start Saturday night in Teas will extend that streak to 318. Kanaan won the series title in 2004 and the Indy 500 in 2013.

NASCAR will hold the All-Star Race, the All-Star Open and the ARCA General Tire 150 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on July 15. That’s a Wednesday and all races will be seen on TSN. Whether spectators will be allowed in is still under discussion. Meantime, the NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway has been postponed until. Aug. 2. Spectator attendance also remains up in the air.

Sprint car ace Donny Schatz is four victories away from 300 wins on the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series tour. The World of Outlaws is the top of the sprint car racing food chain, like NASCAR Cup, IndyCar and Formula One. The guy is a Goliath. Sprint car racing is not for the faint of heart. Brad Sweet took a violent tumble in a race earlier this week. He was okay but said afterward that he was sore. No kidding.

The NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series will resume competition in July with back-to-back weekend shows at Lucas Oil ‘Raceway Park, just west of Indianapolis. The July 11-12 and July 18-19 meets will see a limited number of fans allowed in. Maybe. If local health officials say no, then no one will be able to spectate.

NASCAR gets everybody all excited about alleged big changes coming in 2021. So those of us hoping for fewer cookie-cutter oval tracks and more road-course races and maybe even a street race (can you imagine???) are doomed to disappointment. They announced one of the first changes for 2021 the other day and guess what? They are going back to Nashville Superspeedway to race on the 1.3-mile oval. Wow. I can hardly wait to see the rest of the sked. Okay, Dover agreed to move one of its races to Nashville but it’s still an indication that the powers-that-be still don’t (seem to) get it.

Haas F1 team principal Gunther Steiner used the F-word in a Tweet he sent out the other day. If Gene Haas isn’t embarrassed by this guy yet, he should be. Can you imagine Roger Penske doing that?

Autosport magazine has a headline on this week’s issue: How Sauber twice saved itself from the brink of extinction. I haven’t read the story but I can tell you what I think is the answer: they accepted two really big cheques from Bernie Ecclestone.

Speaking of F1: They have nailed down the first eight races of what they hope will be a full 2020 season. They will start in July with backs-to-backs at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, then there will be stops in Hungary and the U.K. at Silverstone. Belgium and the Italian GP will take the tour into September with further announcements expected. I think they are taking a chance with the U.K. They still have quarantine rules in effect. And the subject of spectators, as always, remains fluid.

Norris McDonald reports on the weekend’s racing each Monday at wheels.ca

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