You would have to be living under a rock (at least in the IndyCar world) to not know the latest news about Arrow McLaren SP and their new driver line up and how they completely screwed James Hinchcliffe. If you are living under a rock, or are new to IndyCar look up the articles by Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller. You can also check out the Trackside podcast with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee. Over the years I have found Marshall and Robin the most reliable for news and then love to hear Curt and Kevin’s thoughts on Trackside after the news has dropped. Of course my fellow bloggers are another great source.
So, in a nutshell, Arrow McLaren SP hired Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew for the 2020 season and left James Hinchcliffe out in the cold. I have so many thoughts on this and only one of them are good. Might as well start with the good so I can write about what I really want to share.
Pato O’Ward is not a true rookie but he did not get a fair shake last season and showed some amazing talent when he was running. This kid deserves to be in IndyCar. Oliver Askew is last years Indy Lights champion and has shown great potential for the last couple years. This is the ladder series working and two up and coming rookies are being given a great chance to break into IndyCar. I’m thrilled to see them both with full time rides.
How in the world do you give two rookies a full time ride at the expense of a veteran, winner and Indy 500 pole sitter driver. Of course I’m speaking of James Hinchcliffe. James is not some old man past his prime. He is still competitive (although I will admit 2019 was a tough year), he is engaging, he is the driver that can grow IndyCar and he is an all around great personality. Does AMSP not realize that by firing James they are alienating the fans? Twitter is full of posts from people saying they now have someone to root against, that they can’t wait to boo them. I don’t disagree, except that it is not Pato and Oliver’s fault and I don’t plan to boo them as drivers.
When this new team first formed I had a strong feeling that Hinch would not be driving for them. It just didn’t make sense to me. Hinch is the face of Honda, he can’t drive a Chevy. I truly expected a statement from Hinch in the days/weeks following the newly formed team that Hinch would be driving for a different Honda team. What I didn’t expect was a team announcement saying that Hinch is out.
Just recently it was announced that Chip Ganassi Racing would be running a third car. Honestly, that alone is big news. I thought Chip was happy with two cars. That Marcus Erickson would be the third car was a bit surprising too. I’m glad Marcus found a landing spot but you can’t help but wonder now if that could have been James’ position had he known AMSP was giving him the boot.
Who is running this team? I loved Sam Schmidt’s team. He worked his way up developing drivers and skills as an owner in Indy Lights. Sam dominated there. Eventually he started winning in IndyCar. I love watching the underdog win. Then the Schmidt team moved up more, they were no longer considered the underdog but were moving closer to being a top team. So did Sam sell out? I would have loved to watch things continue as they had been. Schmidt Peterson was becoming a powerhouse in the IndyCar world and with the Arrow sponsorship they could really compete. Now everyone says Sam is still the boss I don’t know how true that is. Time will tell but I wonder who is really pulling the strings and making the big decisions.
I would have loved to have seen McLaren join IndyCar full time and start a new team and increase car number. I’m not happy with them taking over an existing team and changing so many things, engine manufacturer, drivers and who knows what else.
The Honda seats are gone. With the announcement that James is out coming so late it is much harder to find a ride. Marcus signed with Ganassi as previously stated and Santino Ferrucci may have been looking to move to Foyt but appears to be staying with Dale Coyne Racing. Andretti is bursting at the seams and while Rahal Letterman Lannigan would be the best fit, there doesn’t seem to be enough money in the mix to make that work. Another great spot would be a second car at Meyer Shank Racing but MSR has not run a full season with Jack Harvey yet. I don’t think they make the jump from partial season to running a full season with two drivers.
All in all it is just a bad move from AMSP. They are not gaining any new fans by this move and better have some PR plans in the works to smooth over the damage done by firing the driver most liked and most recognized in the paddock.
So what happens next? Does James find the funding to join a Honda team? Does he look at the Chevy teams? Does he take a “gap year” and do the Dan Wheldon thing- announcing and pit runs with Robin Miller. I guarantee we will see James at both the 500 and the Toronto race but he will be incredibly missed if he doesn’t find a full time ride. What does IndyCar do to make sure their most popular driver has a ride?
I heartbroken that James is in this position. All you have to do is read my previous posts to see how much we like and admire James. He has been a family favorite for forever. I’m disgusted with AMSP for allowing this to happen. If James chose to remain with Honda I expected AMSP to graciously release him from his contract, however when he chose to stay they should have been grateful and fulfilled their commitment to him. I’m also concerned about what this means for Robert Wickens in the future. AMSP continues to state that Robert will have a position in the team when he is able to drive again but I’d sincerely question it if I were Robert. I hope they honor it, just not holding my breath.
During the 2020 season I will be cheering for James in whatever role he has. I will also be following Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew and wishing the best for them while simultaneously wanting to see AMSP struggle. I understand I can’t have it both ways but that is how I feel. I have no ill will towards the drivers, just not thrilled with the team. This frustrates me beyond belief because I have always been a huge fan of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. They have read and retweeted my blog posts. I know crew members and always stop to say Hi at races. We’ve loved watching Sam race in the semi- autonomous car. The thought of not being a fan of the team would have been inconceivable to me a couple months ago and yet just like that everything changed.
James, my boys and I wish you the best. You are a class act and we are honored to know you. You are so great with the fans and I can’t imagine a season without you. I believe though that you will find a way to be driving full time and you will prove once again why you are the heart of IndyCar to so many fans.