I just love it when I have an article in mind and have to do a 180 degree spin in the middle of a turn. As I began setting up my post on the current status of the 2020 NTT Indycar Series grid, the grid experienced a seismic change. James Hinchcliffe, one of the most popular drivers in the paddock, lost his seat at Arrow McLaren SP. The team will announce Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward as their drivers for next season. The news from Racer magazine’s Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller around 9:15 Monday night sent an earthquake of outrage through the Indycar fan community.
There have been whispers since Labor day that Hinchcliffe’s job was in jeopardy. The rumors persisted despite team owner Sam Schmidt saying at Portland that Hinch would be back with the team. Everyone knew Marcus Ericsson would not be back and that the team was interested in O’Ward. In the last month, Askew entered the picture. My thought was they will pick one of the two rookies and keep Hinch for his experience. Now, we have essentially a combined new team consisting of McLaren, which didn’t qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 2019 and Arrow Schmidt Peterson, which barely squeaked in.
Hinchcliffe’s choices of a ride are very limited. His Honda choices are cars that currently don’t exist. Dale Coyne looks committed to Santino Ferrucci’s return in the 19. Coyne has said he will not run a third car and is not interested in an alliance. Ganassi has talked about a part time fourth car. I’m not sure that interests Hinchcliffe. Rahal has third car in mind but is still looking for funding. Hinchcliffe and Honda Canada probably don’t have enough money to pull that deal together. Will HPD help? Rahal seems like the best fit at this moment on the Honda side. Hinchcliffe needs to stay in a Honda car for a couple reasons I’ll discuss in a minute.
Chevy rides available are Carlin, Foyt, and the Ed Carpenter road course only car. None of these rides are great options for him other than keeping Hinchcliffe in the series.
The Honda Indy Toronto may take a bit of a hit without a Canadian driver on the grid. Hinchcliffe’s contract with Honda Canada and his Honda commercials in the United states are also on the line here. On a fan basis, Hinchcliffe is a good river who can races, he’s generous with is time, and ha a sense of humor the paddock and the fans enjoy. He has always taken time to talk to me and i appreciate his time.
Conor Daly may be squeezed out of the paddock again. He was looking to be the last driver left with a decent amount of experience. Now there is a six time race winner on the market who has had a full time ride for several years.
I really like O’Ward and Askew. I hope they have great seasons next year. . At the same time, I will find it hard as a fan to root for Arrow McLaren SP as a team. McLaren has entered the team and from my view, they have been a PR disaster already. The new logo left me cold with its starkly corporate look and the exclusion of the SP from the official team name. While I understand the business side of choosing drivers, Hinchcliffe could have been told a month ago and had more time to put something together.
It is sad to see what looked to be a rising team that in 2018 seemed to have found its soul when Robert Wickens joined but lost it in his’ horrific crash at Pocono that summer and never found it again.