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James Hinchcliffe gearing up for another title run

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James Hinchcliffe will be back in the No. 27 for Andretti Autosport as the IndyCar season gets set to launch. (TORONTO SUN FILES)

TORONTO – The Verizon IndyCar Series finished up its final two days of testing Tuesday, the final bit of business prior to launching the 2014 season next week at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersberg.

Rain and fog at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., however, cut the session in half, much to the disappointment of Canada’s James Hinchcliffe.

For the first time in his IndyCar career, Hinchcliffe will be starting the season-opening race as a defending champion.

He won last year’s Grand Prix on the Florida Gulf coast in dramatic fashion stealing the win with a near prefect pass of Helio Castroneves on the final lap driving the No. 27 Andretti Autosport DW12.

Hinchcliffe went on to win three races for Andretti.

This season Hinchcliffe is back in the No. 27 machine, but with a different engine — Andretti switched from Chevrolet to Honda after last season — and a new sponsor, United Fiber & Data.

He is hoping that he can repeat his heroics of 2013 and he was using the final practice to get ready.

“Every mile we do in testing goes a long way,” Hinchcliffe said. “We only had two days left (of testing) until we head to the first race at St. Pete and we’ll be making sure all the software and calibrations are as good as we can get them.”

He said he did have some concern about a new tire compound that Firestone was bringing to the track, but at least in the first test at Barber, it proved to not only hold up, but was faster than last year’s model.

“We have a good basis to go on, but Firestone has a new tire this year and in testing it’s been considerably quicker,” Hinchcliffe said.

GORDON ON ROLL

While most of NASCAR has been watching as favourite son Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had a great start to the 2014 Sprint Cup season— including a win in the Daytona 500 — four-time champion Jeff Gordon is quietly putting up his best numbers in a decade.

Gordon and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team has four top ten finishes in the first four races — fourth at Daytona, fifth at Phoenix, ninth at Las Vegas and seventh on Sunday at Bristol.

This after hinting in the preseason that he may consider retirement after this season.

Gordon will turn 43 in August and the last of his four championships was 2001, but he seems to have found another gear as he heads to his home state this week for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

He said his results so far have been a team effort.

“The whole team did an awesome job (at Bristol),” Gordon said.

“We had a really good race car at different times throughout the night.”

What is different this season is that Gordon has been able to turn a potentially bad finish into a good one and avoid many of the things that have plagued the team over the past several seasons.

“It’s crazy when we went back racing after the rain delay we just completely wore out the left-front tire in just like 20 or 30 laps,” he said. “I mean we were going backwards in a hurry. Thankfully for that competition caution, but we fixed that and got the car better … drove up into the top five, I was pretty happy.”

FINISH LINES

Chip Ganassi Racing set a new record after the team won he overall title at the Mobil 1 24 Hours of Sebring Sunday by becoming the first organization to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. … A husband’s devotion to NASCAR and particularly Sunday’s Sprint Cup Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway almost proved fatal after his wife stabbed him. Stephanie Hamman, of Church Hill, Tenn., took a knife to her husband Steven because he was “worshipping the NASCAR race at Bristol.” She is charged with first degree attempted murder. … The two long rain delays at Bristol are making many in NASCAR re-thinking the wisdom of racing in Tennessee in the late winter. Some suggest moving the Bristol date to after California’s Auto Club 400 to insure better weather.

DEAN’S RANT

It is interesting to see how the bosses at Red Bull are crying crocodile tears in the aftermath of Daniel Ricciardo being disqualified from the season opening Australian Grand Prix claiming it was the FIA’s own faulty equipment that was to blame.

Red Bull has charged that in the days leading up to the race at Albert Park, it went to the race stewards to point out inconsistencies in the fuel flow measurement technology and that other teams had complained as well.

It may be true, but the other teams all continued to use the FIA supplied equipment, under orders that if they didn’t, disqualification would occur.

It was all there in black and white. There was to be no grey areas which teams might find to manipulate the regulations that called for a maximum fuel flow of 100 kg/hour.

Red Bull, the four time world champion, thought they knew better. It changed the measuring device.

The end result was unfortunate for Ricciardo, who was competing in his home country and earned his first F1 podium finish.

If he is looking for a villain in all of this he should look no further than his own team.

SET FOR A SUPER WEEKEND

There will in more than 40,000 fans cheering on Cole Thompson on Saturday when the Monster Energy AMA Supercross makes its only Canadian stop this season at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

Thompson, 20, of Brigden, Ont. — near Sarnia — will be competing in the 250SX Class on a Rockstar Energy Racing No. 52 KTM 350 SX-F.

Two weeks ago in a race at Daytona Beach, Fla., Thompson was in last place in the main feature but put on a show climbing to a 13th-place finish in the highly competitive 250SX division before it was over.

“Daytona was an up-and-down night for me,” Thompson said. “I felt good in my heat race and finished third. The main event I crashed in the first turn and had to work my way back up from last to finish 13th.

“I caught up to a pack of riders at the end but ran short on laps.

“Definitely not where I want to be finishing, I just need to keep working hard during the week and make it all come together (at Toronto).”

He had a comeback of sorts last week in Detroit where he made it to the final and finished 11th.

The Toronto race promoters will be bring in 500 truckloads of dirt to construct the track. According to the entry list there will be more than 150 racers in the two classes including AMA super stars Ryan Villopoto, James Stewart, Ryan Dungey and James Stewart — who by the way is tied with Ricky Carmichael on the all-time 450SX Class win list.

Gates open for Saturday’s race at 12:30 p.m. for practice and qualifying with the main event starting at 7 p.m.

Tickets are available at the Rogers Centre Box Office and all Ticketmaster outlets, or online at www.SupercrossOnline.com.

MAKING A NOISE OVER NO NOISE

After promoters of the Australian Grand Prix threatened to sue, Formula 1 czar Bernie Ecclestone now says he can fix the problem of how the new turbocharged V6 hybird engines sound.

The Aussies complained long and loud that the F1 bosses were in breach of contract when the new cars sounded like only a shadow of their former selves.

Ecclestone, who had opposed a move to the V6 from the V8 engines, said a modification could be made “after just a few races” to the motors.

“I was not horrified by the noise, I was horrified by the lack of it,” he said.

 

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