The Gales of November Remembered

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With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot, I’ll shift the month around just a bit since we still have almost a week to go in November and include the last few days of October. That way, we are covering the past four weeks and I’m able to work in several cheesy references to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. If you’re under forty, look it up. It’s a great song, or ballad, that chronicles the fate of the doomed Great Lakes freighter that sank in November of 1975.

The gales of November came early at the first of the month, with us talking about James Hinchcliffe being left out of a ride at Arrow McLaren SP. The talk then was how rude it was that Hinch found out his rideless status so late in the game, with most seats taken – especially on the Honda side.

The main hatchway caved in just a few days later when it was announced out of the blue that Roger Penske had bought the NTT IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IMS Productions. Mostly positive reaction poured in from around the world and that topic occupied most discussions for a couple of weeks. There will never be a shortage of things to discuss as we speculate throughout the offseason the changes that The Captain will make.

Just as the waves were starting to calm down, the gales of November came slashing again when we learned that Spencer Pigot had been tossed overboard from Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR), his home since 2016, in favor of rookie-to-be Rinus VeeKay. The non-oval portion of Ed Carpenter’s No.20 car is currently open, but could possibly be filled before this tumultuous month ends this weekend.

There was not near as much outcry for Pigot’s situation, even though he got the boot almost three weeks after Hinchcliffe. Is it because Pigot is not near as popular as Hinchcliffe, or that ECR is a lot more popular these days than Arrow McLaren SP? It’s probably a combination of both.

Then this past Friday the witch of November came stealing once more, when we learned that four-time IndyCar champion, Sébastien Bourdais had parted ways with Dale Coyne Racing.

This seems a little more tangled once you dig into it. When it was announced, many presumed that Bourdais was being dumped in favor of Hinchcliffe. It remains to be seen whether or not Hinch ends up in that seat, but it sounds like this had been brewing for a couple of weeks. According to an article by David Malsher on Motorsport.com; funding that Dale Coyne, Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan had been counting on for the No. 18 car fell through just before their test of the aeroscreen on November 5th.

I don’t know if this was SealMaster, or if the SealMaster deal had already run its course and this was a new potential sponsor – but funding that the team had been counting on for 2020 was no longer there. At this late date, they were going to have to rely on a driver to bring money for that car.

Apparently, Bourdais had already been exploring other options. I don’t know if he had a feeling that the money wouldn’t be there for next season, or the fact that he turns forty-one before the start of next season and was simply contemplating the next phase of his career. But prior to Friday’s announcement, Bourdais had already inked a deal to drive fulltime in IMSA for 2020.

Connecting the dots leads one to believe that Honda may be able to make up for some of the money Dale Coyne Racing is lacking and will put Hinchcliffe in that car. But others are speculating that another deal involving Hinchcliffe may be announced soon, so who really knows?

I have mixed emotions on this latest announcement. While it’s a blow to the series to lose a four-time champion – I think it’s safe to say that Bourdais was definitely in the backside of his career. It’s unfortunate that in this day of few paid drivers, a driver with his credentials is shoved to the sidelines in favor of a younger driver who happens to excel in seeking sponsorship.

If this opens the door for James Hinchcliffe to get a fulltime ride, then that’s great. But if it means that a James Jakes found more money to extend his unremarkable career, well…that’s a problem.

If you are James Hinchcliffe and you are looking at a possibility of an Indianapolis 500 ride with Andretti Autosport or a fulltime deal with Dale Coyne, what do you do? Since the Andretti deal may just be speculation and not a bona fide offer and the Coyne deal may have more substance to it – I think you take the Coyne deal. Even if both offers are on the table, do you take a top ride for the Indianapolis 500 or a decent fulltime ride with Coyne? If I’m James Hinchcliffe, I think I stay in the game and take the fulltime ride with Coyne. Indy-only drivers seem to be forgotten easily. Look no further than Carlos Muñoz if you need a recent example to make that point.

Some think that Dale Coyne already has a relatively unknown driver in mind for the Bourdais seat. He may be talking to several, but if Honda can make it work with some other sponsorships – I have a feeling that James Hinchcliffe will be in that seat when the grid forms at St. Petersburg next March.

It has been a rough ride for the last four weeks, and there’s still another week to go in November. You’d have to think that the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend will provide some calm waters and smooth sailing for the time being, but you never know. But one thing is certain – this has been a very interesting four-week stretch. The gales of this November will be remembered.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “The Gales of November Remembered”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    I was never a big Bourdais fan, but he was undeniably great and I don’t much like seeing guys that good not get to go out on their own terms. After hearing the speculation that Honda pulled back on discounted motors for him (odd time to reveal that), I was surprised to see that he never did finish 1st or 2nd among Hondas last season.

    Pointless trivia: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is one of the few songs released on the format that spanned two 8-track tapes…

  2. Bruce Waine Says:

    So……. What is powering the INDY Cars these days ?

    Be it Hertz rent a car, Econocar, Budget Rent A Car, etc. …….. ?

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    Robin Miller’s thoughts for those who may not have read them:

    Insights & Analysis
    MILLER: The cruel business of racing.

    By: Robin Miller | 7 hours ago – About 8am Nov 25, 2019

    “As long as I’ve covered IndyCar racing (and this is approaching my seventh decade), I’ve always sided with drivers because they take the risks and usually they get kicked to the curb as fast as they turn in at Indy when owners are done with them.

    Don’t get me wrong — Car owners are a necessary evil in motorsports and without them there wouldn’t be any racing.

    Today’s financial pyramid is so inverted it’s amazing we have nine full-timers right now in the NTT IndyCar Series.

    Sponsorship is king in IndyCar and has been since the ’80s when prices escalated, ride buyers became the norm and talent was no longer the direct ticket to get a ride.

    What’s happened in the past few weeks illustrates the cruel business of being a professional racer and why nobody should ever feel safe.
    A former champion, one of the most popular drivers on the circuit and a kid who climbed the ladder of success are all unemployed as we speak.

    It appears Sebastian Bourdais got blindsided by Dale Coyne, while James Hinchcliffe was strung along like a Prom Night standby before getting dumped and Spencer Pigot lost out to the realities of IndyCar racing.

    The timing sucked for all three, since there’s not much out there to choose from in November and it could be Indy 500-only duty for this trio in 2020.

    But let’s get one thing out of the way up front: The Ed Carpenter Racing/Pigot situation was nothing like the other two, at least in terms of professionalism and honesty.

    Carpenter went above and beyond to give Spencer a shot despite the fact he brought no money. That’s almost unheard of from a little team like ECR and the 2015 Indy Lights champion was with ECR for three years (the last two full-time) and that’s almost an eternity today.
    True, they had a handshake agreement for the No. 21 car in 2020, but it was with the understanding that Ed needed sponsorship and Rinus Veekay delivered with JUMBO Foods. And it won’t be like IndyCar lost an American, because if things go right Conor Daly may be sharing the No. 20 car with the boss.

    Ed Carpenter went above and beyond to help give Spencer Pigot a proper shot in IndyCar.

    To his credit, Pigot was all class when he got the word. He thanked Ed because he knew he’d been given a rare opportunity and he also knows how much money it takes to field an Indy car.

    Hinch’s drama is a good example of bad PR and a lack of communication.

    Even though he had one more year on his contract, The Mayor was thought to be a lame duck when McLaren came aboard to sponsor Arrow SPM in August. I kept saying he wouldn’t be driving for this team in 2020 because that’s all I kept hearing underground. And when Sam Schmidt went public with his guarantee that James would be driving for them next year, my understanding is that he was told to zip it by Arrow.

    When they tried to give Hinch’s ride to Oliver Askew for the season finale at Laguna Seca, that’s all the evidence anyone needed.

    Being replaced by IndyCar’s future, Pato O’Ward and Askew, is certainly no disgrace but the way it was handled certainly was and it left a bad taste in every Canadian fan’s mouth, as well as embarrassing Hinchcliffe.

    When you cheat death at Indy because of a faulty suspension part and come back to win the pole the next May, you don’t deserve that kind of farewell.

    Bourdais’ surprising split with Coyne calls the value of driver contracts into further question.

    Ditto for Bourdais. A four-time IndyCar champion who breathed new respect into Coyne’s operation the past three seasons, Seb seemed set for 2020 with engineer Craig Hampson and the final year of his contract. Not sure if SealMaster is out and we heard no more free engines from Honda, but IndyCar’s eternal little guy is back looking for a paid driver for No. 18.

    The 40-year-old Frenchman, who overcame a monstrous crash going for quick time at Indy in 2017, was understandably furious with this late kick to the crotch and Marshall Pruett reported last week there was an offer to switch contracts with Hinch and place Seb at Arrow McLaren SP but Coyne refused it.

    Unlike the other two veterans, at least Seb already has a good IMSA sports car ride lined up with JDC-Miller Motorsports.

    Although James Hinchcliffe had heard the rumblings, the way his departure from Arrow McLaren SPM played out was embarrassing.

    Of course the obvious questions are why bother to have contracts when they’re really not binding and how many owners can be classified as straight shooters?

    Sam is taking a lot of the heat for Hinch but I don’t think that’s entirely fair because he didn’t re-shuffle the line-up.

    Unlike Bourdais, at least The Mayor heard the rumblings and Honda of Canada confirmed it had him on its 2020 budget so he had to at least be pondering a Plan B.

    But while these pink slips are gutting for the drivers and their followers, they’re more of an indictment of the system than anything else.

    ECR and Coyne did it to stay in this expensive game, while Arrow McLaren SP didn’t need money but wanted an infusion of youth.

    The treatment of Hinch and Seb certainly isn’t anything for those team owners to be proud of but, as clichéd and as callous as it is, the bottom line is that it’s nothing personal – just the ball-busting business of big-time auto racing.”

  4. Seb said his move to IMSA is temporary for 2020. He is not retiring from IndyCar. There was just no place to go this late in the year. He had a contract for 2020 with DCR, right? Sigh…

  5. I remember not being too fond of Sébastien Bourdais in the early days but over time he grew on me. I was sad to hear this news about his contract. I watched him win in Denver and stood across the track from his famous shoving match with Paul Tracy. I’m going to miss him in the series. I hope he comes back.

  6. Five star post for managing to weave the Edmund Fitzgerald into IndyCar current events somehow (I had my oldest daughter read up a bit on the Fitz when we were visiting the north shore of Lake Superior this summer). The series will be poorer for the lack of Hinch, Seabass and Spence (if none find a ride this year), but the show will go on…

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