The Best Options for James Hinchcliffe

Last week, fans of James Hinchcliffe got some welcomed news when it was announced that he had secured funding for the Month of May and perhaps some other races. Genesys, a telecommunications firm based in California with a strong presence in Indianapolis, has agreed to support the popular Canadian driver for both races at IMS and hopefully at the Honda Indy Toronto later this summer, if not a couple of more races.

What was missing in the press release was what team he would drive for. Robin Miller reported Thursday for that his most likely landing spot was Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing or Dale Coyne Racing.

Nowhere in Miller’s story did I see Andretti Autosport listed, yet fans on social media are still connecting the dots that AA is where he’ll most likely end up.

I just don’t see it. Michael Andretti is already running five fulltime cars directly under the Andretti umbrella – Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Colton Herta, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. Add to that a fulltime association with Meyer Shank Racing for Jack Harvey. Then there are strong rumors that Fernando Alonso will be in a seventh car for Andretti for the Indianapolis 500. I think Alonso is zeroing in on Andretti Autosport as his destination for May, especially since he has officially ended his relationship with McLaren. If that’s the case, I just don’t see how Andretti could be responsible for eight cars for the Indianapolis 500. That just seems a little too ambitious.

If I’m right, where does that place Hinchcliffe?

Chip Ganassi would be interesting. He would be teaming up with his teammate from last year, Marcus Ericsson. He would also be working for an owner whom he mockingly described as “adorable” just a few years ago in a nationally televised interview.

There would be an interesting undertone to this potential relationship. Scott Dixon will turn forty this summer. His skills are obviously still there, but he just had his third child this offseason. How much longer does he plan to put himself at risk? He and Ganassi have to be contemplating a time when Dixon steps out of the cockpit.

When that time comes, who would succeed Dixon as the unquestioned leader of the team? Marcus Ericsson? Felix Rosenqvist? If Hinchcliffe went to Ganassi for a handful of races this season and things went well, I could see a scenario where Hinchcliffe could drive more races and be poised to become the de facto team-leader of the team.

But I don’t think it will happen. Chip Ganassi fancies himself as something of a talent scout – someone who finds relatively unknown driving talent from overseas. When he has hired drivers from other IndyCar teams, it has rarely worked out – with Dario Franchitti being the lone exception. Kenny Bräck, Tomas Schekter and Tony Kanaan come to mind. Even Dan Wheldon had a star-crossed tenure in his three seasons at Ganassi. Chip Ganassi prefers to bring in drivers you’ve never heard of and make them stars. However, there seem to be more Nick Minassians than there are Juan Montoyas in that team’s history. I think James Hinchcliffe is too well-known and seasoned for Ganassi’s liking.

Another potential destination for Hinchcliffe is Dale Coyne Racing. It’s possible, but I think it would be a mistake – for Hinch, that is. There have been too many changes at that team since the season-finale last fall at Laguna Seca. Sébastien Bourdais is gone as well as most of the engineering staff. Last year’s rookie sensation, Santino Ferrucci, has yet to be re-signed. As we approach late January, Ferrucci’s existence at Coyne in 2020 is looking more and more doubtful than what we thought was a mere formality back in October. I see Coyne taking a major step backward this coming season.

Of course, who’s to say that Hinchcliffe is limiting himself to Honda teams. Yes, he has a personal contract with Honda of Canada and he has also done several commercials in the US for the Japanese automaker. But Jenna Fryer, of the Associated Press, reports that the dollar figure attached to Hinchcliffe’s personal contract is not near what most thought it was back in the fall. How she knows this, I don’t know – but she is fairly tuned in and is right a lot more than she is wrong.

If that’s true, Hinchcliffe may be more willing to drive a Chevy-powered car than we originally thought. Remember, Hinch is still under contract with Arrow McLaren SP. They have stated they want to run a third car at Indianapolis. With Alonso out of the picture for McLaren in May, savvy veteran and former Indianapolis 500 pole-winner James Hinchcliffe may suddenly looked fairly enticing – especially considering they will be running a true rookie in Oliver Askew and a driver who failed to qualify in his only attempt in Pato O’ Ward. They could probably use Hinchcliffe’s veteran leadership in the Month of May. Neither of them seem to like each other, but this could be a marriage of convenience.

However, I think the most likely landing spot for James Hinchcliffe is at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. They are a Honda team that had toyed with the idea of expanding to third car for 2020. It sounds like the Genesys deal that Hinchcliffe brings for a third car in May will have a little more substance than the Rich’s Energy Drink program that Jordan King brought last year.

Like Dixon, Takuma Sato is getting long in the tooth and is probably contemplating retirement. I could see Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe teaming up together for a long time. He would never be the team leader for obvious reasons, but I think Hinch would be fine with that – just give him a good car and let him race. Then again, Graham hasn’t been burning it up lately either. Since winning five races between 2015 and 2017, Graham Rahal has gone winless in the past two seasons, while Sato has won three races in those same two seasons.

I think James Hinchcliffe could bring a lot to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as a part-time driver in 2020. Perhaps that could turn into a fulltime gig in 2021 – either as the driver in a third car, or a potential replacement for a retired Sato. I also think Hinchcliffe could benefit greatly from going to Bobby Rahal’s team.

James Hinchcliffe has had a rocky road since 2015. He almost lost his life in a practice crash just days before the 2015 Indianapolis 500. He recovered well enough to come back and win the pole for the 2016 race. He then failed to qualify for the 2018 race and then had his ride pulled out from under him after the 2019 season – after McLaren bought into the team and kicked him to the curb after all of the decent rides had been filled.

Could he have been more proactive in seeing the writing on the wall and nailing down something else? Probably, but would his contract allow that? But give Hinchcliffe credit for hustling through the offseason and securing funding for the Month of May and possibly beyond.

The story for James Hinchcliffe has yet to be written for 2020 and 2021, but by joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – it seems that he just might have a path back to a fulltime ride with a decent team. Let’s hope he nails down something that gives him a plan for beyond this coming season. He deserves better than what he has gone through.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “The Best Options for James Hinchcliffe”

  1. Apparently he’s going to use this downtime to do some other races, like sports cars and maybe even stock cars. Hope he lands a full time gig.

  2. A visit to The Mayor’s wesite gives you the horrible “404 file not found”. Yes, you can follow the link to a recap of last year but ……..

    Hinchtown is gone. The Mayor is gone. It’s almost like it’s all gone.

    No more tweets, no more stats, no more blogs, no more discussions. It’s all gone.

    Thanks Zak.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    Read within the last month that Honda may be looking to (place) a driver (Japanese) to carry the Honda Company banner for the homeland when Tacuma retires. Interesting that this topic has surfaced from Honda, so one might place a little more than a 50 – 50 credibility on its happening within a year or so ?

    I agree on the different Ganassi approach to selecting drivers under what has appeared in their past as their team’s revolving (driver disposal) door. In addition to there disposing of Dan Whelden, add to the list the removal of their driver Bryan Herta.

    I would imagine that both Bryan and Dan privately relished their 2011 Indy 500 win when Dan won the 500 driving for Bryan. But that is another chapter……….

    Hinch to Rahal would be the welcome best choice for Hinch’s career if that door is opened with Honda’s backing.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Ganassi is probably his best option unless Andretti materializes, but RLL does seem the most likely destination. If Hinch is looking for a full-time seat, he probably won’t be in a position to be choosy.

  5. Bruce Waine Says:

    In case you did not listen to it or read in, here is Hinch’s 2020 update as posted on RACER,com today (Jan 23rd) from Marshall Pruett’s podcast.

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