September 19, 2012
Hinchcliffe happy with first full IndyCar seasonAnd he's thrilled to be back with same team next year
By Dean McNulty, QMI Agency
James Hinchcliffe didn’t get to celebrate in Victory Lane this IZOD IndyCar season, but he did make an impression with an eighth-place championship finish in his first full season in North America’s top open-wheel racing loop.
Now, as he takes a bit of a vacation away from the race track, Hinchcliffe wants to solidify his position with the No. 27 Andretti Autosport team.
That means negotiating an extension to his two-year contract before it expires at the end of the 2013 season.
“We are all set for next year — we have a two-year deal that we signed last season for both myself and GoDaddy,” he told the Toronto Sun on Tuesday. “The big thing for us now is to try to work on getting an extension and hopefully that relationship we have with Andretti Autosport can continue.
“Hopefully we can all agree to ink a deal that keeps us all together for many more years to come.”
This is all new territory for the 25-year-old native of Oakville, who has never been able to string together a multi-year deal with a race team prior to hooking up with Michael Andretti’s group at the end of the 2010 season.
“This is going to be the first time that I have ever been back with the same race team for two consecutive years,” Hinchcliffe said.
“I am really looking forward to not having to learn a whole new operation; a whole new way of doing things; forging a new relationship with a new engineer.”
He said that is a matter of great comfort to him that he can spend his off-season not worrying about what the immediate future will hold for him.
“Continuity is such and important part of our sport,” Hinchcliffe said. “You look at some of the most successful drivers in history and you will find they have been usually attached to one team and one group of people.
“I am looking forward to the opportunity to be back with the same guys and really being able to attack the new season from January onwards because we don have to go through that awkward courting phase, getting to know each other.”
While the 2011 season started with a huge measure of success — five straight top-six finishes that included a podium finish in Long Beach — the team hit some rough patches at Belle Isle and Toronto, where a freak accident and an engine failure resulted in DNFs.
“There were some hiccups along the road but I think there was a lot this year that we can be proud of and more than anything we established a good foundation to build on for 2013,” he said.
Hinchcliffe said he was also proud of the fact that his Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was able to win the IndyCar championship on the last night of the season over Penske Racing’s Will Power.
He also knows being part of the championship-winning group means added pressure to repeat next season.
“I guess it is one of those bittersweet things,” Hinchcliffe said. “It is very cool to come back as a championship winning group but at the same time everybody is gunning for you.
“The hunters become the hunted in a sense but I think the team is ready for it. They have been in this position before and we are hoping that next season we can be even stronger and have Marco (Andretti) and myself really up there with Ryan at the end, fighting for another championship.”
As expected Ryan Pemberton has been named interim crew chief for Danica Patrick and the No. 7 JR Motorsports Nationwide Checvrolet team at Kentucky Speedway Saturday after Tony Eury Jr. was let go. It is likley Pemberton will retain the role over the final seven races ... ESPN enjoyed its best Chase start rating ever Sunday at Chicagoland with a 3.0 rating, up from a 1.8 rating in 2011 ... A.J. Allmendinger has had his NASCAR suspension lifted after completing the Road to Recovery Program. Allmendinger had been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR on July 24 after testing positive for the banned drug Adderal. ... Ferrari is still holding out the carrot of a new Formula One contract for Felipe Massa, telling the Brazilian driver his performances over the final seven Grands Prix will determine his fate.
END IN SIGHT FOR KENNINGTON
The end is in sight for D.J. Kennington and the No. 17 Castrol Edge Dodge team in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
Kennington can win his second national NASCAR championship Saturday night at Kawartha Speedway near Peterborough simply by finishing ahead of his closest rivals J.R. Fitzpatrick in the No. 84 Equipment Express Chevrolet and Andrew Ranger in the No. 27 Dodge Dealers Dodge.
The St. Thomas, Ont., native holds a 23 point lead over Fitzpatrick, of Cambridge, Ont., and a 30-point advantage over Ranger, of Roxton Pond, Que.
The only other driver with a remote chance is defending champion Scott Steckly in the No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge, who is 40 points back.
With a maximum of 46 points available — 44 points for a win, and a point each for leading a lap and leading the most laps — it will take a phenomenal effort for any of the three to catch and pass Kennington.
But he is not getting too confident.
“We’ve got one race to go, though, and nothing is clinched yet,” he said this week. “There are just so many things that can go wrong with mechanical equipment and out on the track.
“We’ll take care of everything we can, but then it’s up to fate which I don’t really like. That’s racing, though.”
Watching the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday has convinced me even more that there has to be a road course in the 10-race marathon.
While Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team were full value for the win and his battle with five-time champion Jimmie Johnson over the final 50 or so laps, it paled in comparison to the excitement that was his fight with Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose in August at Watkins Glen.
That race was one for the ages.
The thought of four more 1.5-mile oval races like Chicagoland in the Chase, however, is mind-numbing.
The problem, as I see it, is where to put a road course in the Chase.
It would have to be in a southern locale as weather in late September, October and November at northern tracks like the Glen, Road America and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal can be iffy at best.
But when the France family — who control NASCAR — bought the assets of the American Le Mans Series it got Florida’s Sebring International Raceway as part of the deal.
Now that would make for a great venue for a Chase road course event.
HAMILTON DENIES MOVE TO MERCEDES
The rumours that Lewis Hamilton is set to quit the McLaren team after this season are “rubbish” according to the 28-year-old Briton.
Hamilton said this week that stories in the media that he is on his way to replace Michael Schumacher at Mercedes are completely unfounded and he is in no hurry to sign a new deal until the end of the current Formula One season.
The story got started after ex-Formula One team owner Eddie Jordan went on record as saying Hamilton to Mercedes was a done deal.
But Hamilton told Reuters no such plan is in the works.
“My focus is on trying to win this world championship,” he said.