Fan-favorite IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe found himself in a tight bind at the end of the 2019 season: Arrow McLaren SP opted against signing him so late that all Hinchcliffe could piece together was a three-race deal with Andretti Autosport. Now, he’s adding three more races to his 2020 package after the early departure of No. 26 driver Zach Veach.
Veach would be at the end of his three-year contract with Andretti Autosport at the conclusion of the 2020 season, and his departure wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Ohio native had a fairly solid run through the Road to Indy program, but his performance in the IndyCar series left a lot to be desired. It was rare to see a top-10 finish at a team of championship contending caliber. It would have taken a miracle for Veach to improve enough to be retained after 2020.
Veach had the following to say about his early departure:
The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car. This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.
Hinchcliffe was signed on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, which came as no surprise. He had been pegged to take Veach’s seat at the end of 2020, and his existing relationship with the team this season made him an easy choice. Team owner Michael Andretti noted, “It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021. James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
The Canadian driver’s comments were kind:
I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can. I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.
For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.
As he noted, Hinchcliffe contested three previous races with Andretti this year, one each at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the IMS road course. His next three include a doubleheader at the IMS road course and the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He’s won at St. Pete with Andretti before, and he has a best finish of third at the IMS road course.
There will be a learning curve, of course, but Hinchcliffe can rest easy knowing he’ll be able to fall back on the data of his three other teammates.