INDIANAPOLIS – The curious case for the driver lineup at Arrow McLaren SP took an unexpected turn this week. All along, even since the announcement in August was made that Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports would merge with McLaren Racing and switch manufacturers to Chevrolet power too, the team vowed that James Hinchcliffe would return despite his ties to Honda. Even Hinchcliffe said as much.
But, when the team unveiled their driver lineup on Wednesday, Hinchcliffe’s name wasn’t even mentioned as a driver for 2020. The organization with go with two rookies in Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew instead. The only reason his name came up was that the team said that they have decided to part ways with him despite there being a contract in place for next year.
Hinchcliffe, was essentially let go. That appears dirty on the horizon. Reports are that up until Oct. 27, Hinchcliffe thought he was a part of the team.
In a conference call on Wednesday afternoon, team owner Sam Schmidt shed a bit more light on what’s going on. Unfortunately, the details are still murky as to why though.
“I think Ric (Peterson) and I would say that this is one of the toughest decisions we have had to make since we have been team owners, because I personally have known James (Hinchcliffe), (father) Jeremy, (mother) Arlene, his brother Chris for 11 years and love him,” team co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “And I really appreciate what he’s done for the team, tremendous, tremendous investor in the sport and our brand and everything else.
“So it’s a gut-wrenching decision, but we were faced with an opportunity to pick up these two young guns coming out of Indy Lights that already have 13, 14, 15 years worth of experience and it was just an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.
“So everything’s amicable, I have all the faith in the world that James is going to wind up in a full-time ride and Ric and I are fully supportive of that.
“It’s just a competitive environment and for our partners and everything else that we’re — everybody, it was a group decision, we got an opportunity in front of us, we got to take it, we want to go win races.”
Hinchcliffe, won races for them though. They’ve reached victory lane seven times as an organization and Hinchcliffe took them there for three of them. He’s a top 10 driver in the series today and they’re essentially paying him to stay away. It’s not like he’s a head case or a trouble maker. It’s the far opposite in fact. Hinchcliffe, is a popular as they come. He’s a fan favorite. He’s marketable. He’s intelligent. He’s an all around good driver on and off the track.
Now, he’s being paid to stay away and we’re supposed to believe it’s because two young drivers are here for the taking? It’s not like either are bringing a ton of funding. Askew, has his Road to Indy scholarship but that’s not a full seasons worth.
Plus, they’re paying Hinchcliffe still. Hinchcliffe will still collect pay checks from the organization until he can find a new ride in 2020. If he doesn’t find a ride, then for the whole season, Hinchcliffe will be on Arrow McLaren SP’s payroll. The team confirmed that. They’re honoring his final year of the contract.
We don’t know that answer, but Schmidt though doesn’t think that Hinchcliffe will be on their payroll long.
“What’s to stop him is the race driver within him,” Schmidt said of the situation on why Hinchcliffe wouldn’t just sit out the entire season. “I mean, I think as Gil (de Ferran), myself, anybody else on the line that’s a driver, you want to drive, you want to prove, you want to win the Indy 500, you still got boxes to check.
“And so I have no doubt that he and his team are burning up the phone lines and talking with everybody out there, in any series but primarily Indy Car. He’s still young, he still wants to win races, so I think that’s what’s to stop him from doing it. Certainly, it’s his option, but I don’t think you’ll see him do that.”
To make this case even weirder, there’s a car available. They can be a three car team. I mean, they technically are. They confirmed they will run a third car for the Month of May and will also have a car available for whenever Robert Wickens is ready.
Why not put him Hinchcliffe in it then? That’s a question that no one will answer. Schmidt confirmed that the No. 6 for Wickens is still there until he’s ready to return.
“Yeah, I mean Robert (Wickens), I mean I think Robert continues to inspire and motivate and just amaze everybody on a daily basis,” said Schmidt on Wickens’ status with the team moving forward. “Because he’s continuing the program, he’s continuing to improve, he is a part of the team as a driver coaching consultant and will continue.”
Wouldn’t that be awkward? The biggest reason to why Wickens even looked to continue his driving career in IndyCar is because of Hinchcliffe. The two are best friends. They’re close. They’ve been close since they were kids.
The team that is paying Hinchcliffe is basically go away with a car available is hoping Wickens stays to coach their drivers until he’s ready to return himself.
“I think that’s one of the major assets we have that Oliver (Askew) was talking about in that he will be there at a majority of the races next year assisting these young guys to get acclimated as quick as they can.
“He’s part of the team, but also he’s got a major focus on his rehabilitation and he’s hell-bent on driving again and I wouldn’t bet against him.”
I mean, Schmidt said on Wednesday they have “plenty of equipment” and with a driver still under contract that you’re paying, why not use it and allow him to race?
“Yeah, I mean we have, in the deal came all the McLaren equipment, which means we have plenty of equipment,” Schmidt said of a third car for Indy. “We have historically always ran a third (at Indy) just because of our commercial partner demand and we expect to do that again this year.”
Fernando Alonso is an option for that seat. Why not Hinchcliffe?
Was it the ESPN Body Magazine issue? It’s obviously not Honda related because the team is paying him. This whole situation is just bizarre.
They have plenty of equipment, have four drivers on payroll and three of them in roles with the team. Why not the fourth?