Hinchcliffe's Indy team folds

James Hinchcliffe comes around turn 13 during the main race at the 2011 Edmonton Indy at City...

James Hinchcliffe comes around turn 13 during the main race at the 2011 Edmonton Indy at City Centre Airport in Edmonton on Sunday, July 24, 2011. (CODIE MCLACHLAN/QMI Agency)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:08 PM ET

If nothing else Canada’s James Hinchcliffe is an eternal optimist.

The Oakville native celebrated his 25th birthday this week with the news that Newman Haas Racing — the team that brought him into the IZOD IndyCar series this past season — was folding its race operations.

Hinchcliffe, who was in Britain on a promotional tour was, to say the least, surprised at the announcement that one of North America’s most successful outfits was going out of the business of putting cars on the IndyCar grid.

“(My) immediate reaction was shock, for sure,” Hinchcliffe said. “I obviously was somewhat aware of the fact that the team had recently received some bad news about potential sponsors, but it’s Newman/Haas.

“You just sort of always assume that they will find a way to make it work. The cars had been ordered and the engineers were into their preparation. So for sure it was a shock.”

This after all was the team of Mario and Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Nigel Mansell and Sebastien Bourdais.

It was also the team that propelled Hinchcliffe to IndyCar Rookie of the Year honours in a 2011 season where he missed the first race before Toronto’s Sprott Investments came to his rescue with a sponsorship package.

Now the job at hand for Hinchcliffe is finding a new team for his talents for the 2012 season. Certainly his winning the top rookie title will help him in that search.

“It meant a huge amount to me before, but it probably means even more now,” Hinchcliffe said. “To do that having missed the first race and coming back from a huge deficit after Indy was a tremendous accomplishment for the team.

“I am just so grateful for the opportunity that Sprott and Newman/Haas gave me this year to be in IndyCar and to give me the tools needed to accomplish that. That was our goal from the outset and it’s a big point of pride that we pulled it off.”

In the current economy — especially one hit as hard as it has been in the U.S. — Hinchcliffe will face and uphill struggle but what he has in his favour is a clean-cut image and a personality that could sell Bibles at an atheists convention.

And his ability to drive race cars at more than 200 m.p.h. with the best of them doesn’t hurt either.

“After a season like the one we had, there was certainly some interest from around the paddock,” Hinchcliffe said.

One rumoured suitor is said to be the Andretti Autosport team who has a deal with GoDaddy.com and has yet to name a driver to replace Danica Patrick.

Hinchcliffe is not admitting to talking to anyone at Andretti, mainly because he figured — until this week — that he would be back at NHR, but he said it is nice to be mentioned in respect to that ride.

“It was a very flattering thing, really,” he said. “For sure, initially continuing with Newman/Haas was the likely option, but it was only one option. There were others and now with that one off the table we will begin to explore some of the others.”

For now Hinchcliffe is taking time to fulfil a commitment he made to take part in the Granja Viana 500 kart race in Brazil that will feature some Formula One as well as IndyCar drivers.

“The offer to do Granja came from (Indy Lights driver) Victor Carbone, who has an association with one of the teams,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting down there, getting back into a more serious kart race for the first time in a while and on top of that, a few days in Brazil is a nice break from surviving December weather back home.”

PENSKE JOB OPEN

Now that Kurt Busch is out at the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge there is a long line of drivers seeking the ride in the Shell/Pennzoil machine.

Speculation is that Brian Vickers, David Ragan and David Reutimann are all front runners for the prestigious Penske job.

But don’t forget that former IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. is still in the Penske picture in the No. 12 Nationwide Dodge and there is a possibility that he could be moved up to the Sprint Cup team.

Intriguing, as well, is talk that Alex Tagliani will drive in the No. 12 Dodge in at least a couple of Nationwide series races next season.

One never knows, maybe even Hinchcliffe could be talked into trying out stock cars if he can’t find a suitable ride in open wheel racing.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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