TORONTO - James Hinchcliffe has paid his dues in open wheel racing, winning all the way up the IZOD IndyCar series ladder.
And for the 25-year-old Canadian all that work paid off big time on Tuesday with the announcement that he will takeover driving the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet powered Dallara for Andretti Autosport this season and beyond.
As he told me in an interview shortly after the ink was dry on the contract, he has some pretty impressive shoes to fill — as in the size 4 spiked heels Danica Patrick prefers.
Patrick has been the face and the talent behind the American internet domain naming giant’s foray into auto racing over the past five seasons.
It was Patrick’s provocative Super Bowl advertising campaigns — more than often wearing little more than those high heels and a skimpy bikini — that launched GoDaddy.com onto the sports lexicon.
“Hey if it takes wearing spiked heals to make a sponsor happy, I’m your guy,” Hinchcliffe said, only half in jest.
But he said it would take some convincing to get him into a bikini.
“I don’t think GoDaddy, or anybody else, wants to see that,” he said.
Hinchclliffe, however, is a master of self promotion — in a good way.
After all this is the same Hinchcliffe who once fitted himself into an automatic dog washing machine for a full-scale demonstration on how it worked to help publicize his sister’s animal grooming business.
Patrick will continue to be the big star for GoDaddy but it will be from the front seat of the No. 7 Dale Earnhardt Jr. NASCAR Nationwide Chevrolet and Tony Stewart’s No. 10 Sprint Cup Chevrolet.
It is, however, a big step up of the Oakville, Ont, native, who just 12 months ago was beating the bushes to try to find sponsorship to go racing at Newman Haas for his rookie IndyCar season.
In fact, Hinchcliffe missed the opening day race at St. Petersburg due to lack of corporate backing before the Toronto-based Sprott Financial came aboard to save his season, and maybe even his career.
When NHR revealed in November that it was folding its IndyCar team, Hinchcliffe was back to square one.
Andretti had signed 2011 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon to take Patrick’s place on the morning of the fatal of the final race of the season at Las Vegas in October.
After that Hinchcliffe became the next best available driver.
The new contract with Andretti, gives Hinchcliffe both security and confidence to make a run at becoming a major racing star.
In his first visit to Andretti’s Indianapolis race shop opened his eyes to that opportunity.
“We have a three car team (he will be teammates with Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay) that just makes everything better,” Hinchcliffe said of the sharing of set-ups and testing information that will be available to him.
“The introduction of the brand new Dallara chassis and the Chevrolet engines makes it doubly important to have all the date that is available.”
Hinchcliffe said that the team is also looking at a fourth race car, at least for the Indianapolis 500.
Although details of who will be in the pit box for Hinchcliffe in the No. 7 car has not been announced, it could be team owner Michael Andretti, who handled crew chief duties for Patrick last season.
With Montreal’s Alex Tagliani under contract at Bryan Herta Autosport that only leaves Toronto’s Paul Tracy without a full time deal among the Canadians in the IndyCar loop.
Seven-time Canadian national stock car racing champion Don Thomson Jr. will become crew chief for the No. 84 Fitzpatrick Racing team of J.R. Fitzpatrick for the 2012 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series season. Thomson won six of his seven titles while driving the No. 4 Fitzpatrick Racing Chevrolet, before moving to Team 3 Red Racing last season. “I am really excited about this next chapter in my career and glad to be back at Fitzpatrick Motorsports,” Thomson said. “I am comfortable here, I know the way the system works here and John is really committed to put the best product on the track for J.R. and our sponsor partners. I have also known J.R. since he was eight years old and he has grown to become the best driver in the series so I really want to be part of whatever he does up here.” ... The high cost of hosting a Formula 1 race has put the legendary Spanish Grand Prix at Catalunya’s Barcelona circuit in jeopardy. “It is not clear to us that we can afford them in the current (economic) situation,” the Spanish state’s minister for economy, told RAC1 radio. ... The Nationwide Series garage is still reeling over the new on the weekend that Rusty Wallace Racing will cease operations. The move leaves Stephen Wallace without a ride for 2012.