If there’s one thing I like over and above all the other things I like about Oakville Indy car driver James Hinchcliffe, it’s his consistency. He has a mind of his own, isn’t afraid to express what he’s thinking and is consistent with his opinions.
For instance, last summer at the Honda Indy Toronto, Hinch told Toronto Star Wheels writer Stephanie Wallcraft that he didn’t like double-headers because they weren’t fair to all the drivers. If a particular driver got hot in the first race, it could carry over into the second and he (or she) could wind up scoring many more points in one weekend than the others.
"If they’re going to have double-headers, they should make all the races double-headers," he said. "For instance, I dominated the race at Iowa (which he won several weeks before the Toronto stop) and if there had been a second race there, I think there’s a pretty good chance I would have dominated that one too."
He then went on to say that Scott Dixon had an unfair advantage at Toronto because he won both of the races that weekend. (As it turned out, Dixon scored close to maximum points at the recent Houston double-header and took over the points lead from Helio Castroneves, who had an absolutely atrocious weekend, with one race remaining.)
Hinchcliffe was at it again the other day over standing starts, which IndyCar tried several times at races this season. Says Hinch: go ahead and have them but not just at some races; have standing starts at all the races.
Hinchcliffe was home in Oakville visiting his parents for the Thanksgiving weekend and we had a chat at the tail end of last week. We touched on the near-disaster during the standing start at the first Houston race when he stalled and many of the drivers behind him just missed hitting his car. Of course, Ed Carpenter did clip him in the rear and put both cars out of the race.
"I am a fan, fundamentally, of standing starts," he said. "It puts more in the drivers’ hands and I like that there’s an element of talent involved. But obviously, if you’re doing it at a street track, there’s an increased risk because there’s that much less space for a car to go if something goes wrong.
"The other part of it is consistency, and I don’t think if you’re not going to do them at all the races that it’s necessarily fair to do them at any. While I am a fan of the concept, I’m not sure it’s the right thing for IndyCar."
Whenever you sit down for a chat with a guy like Hinchcliffe, you know you're not going to walk away empty-handed. He'll always give you a story and the preceding is an excellent example of that.
Meantime, the final race of the 2013 season goes to the post in California next Saturday night and the championship will be won either by Dixon or Castroneves. While Hinchcliffe has three wins and four podiums this season – he rescued his Houston weekend by finishing third in the second race – he also didn’t score any points in a number of earlier races and wants to perform well in California to hold his place in the top ten.
What's more urgent, however, is that as of this writing (Monday night) he still does not have a deal in place for the 2014 season which, frankly, is an appalling state of affairs.
The Internet domain company, Go Daddy, will not be a presence in IndyCar after next Saturday (and perhaps won’t be in auto racing at all after 2014), which will leave Hinchcliffe and his employer, Andretti Autosport, without a major sponsor.
And although the cheerleaders like to talk on and on about the health of the IndyCar series, there are at least three teams that might not be on the grid next year and for a guy like Hinchcliffe who's on the market, that means there could be three fewer teams to drive for.
Tony Kanaan took his Hydroxycut sponsorship with him last week when he left KV Racing and signed with Chip Ganassi’s B Team. Without elaborating, Kanaan had reasons for wanting out of KV. Meantime, Sebastien Bourdais is shopping for a seat after racing for Jay Penske’s outfit the last few years. And the National Guard sponsorship, which has kept Panther Racing in business for years, has gone to Bobby Rahal’s team, starting in 2014.
Now, if Dario Franchitti (he underwent further surgery in Indianapolis in recent days to repair his ankle that was badly broken in that Houston crash) chooses retirement, a seat could open up at Ganassi. But that is a very big if. A second seat could open up at Rahal – maybe. Best bet: Andretti Autosport makes a deal to run Honda power plants in 2014 and Honda Canada sponsors Hinchcliffe. But who knows if that will all fall into place?
Meantime, Hinch remains hopeful.
"Obviously, we are working diligently to get something signed," he told me during our visit. "We need a few more things to fall into place and when that happens we can made a decision and make an announcement. I am optimistic I’ll be in IndyCar next year and having three wins helps us to make the case that we belong in the series."
Make it four wins on Saturday night, James, and then you won’t have to make a case. In fact, make it four wins and then let IndyCar try to explain why you’re not in the series.
NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS: Although there is still a mathematical chance that Fernando Alonso can beat Sebastian Vettel for the 2013 world championship of drivers, it’s over. Vettel won yet another race on Sunday in Japan (his ninth of the season and fifth straight) and Alonso wasn’t even on the podium. . . . Here’s something interesting. As F1 fans know, Felipe Massa has frequently outqualified Alonso this season and, when that has happened, Ferrari has managed to find a way to have Alonso leapfrog past Massa during pit stops. That didn’t happen on Sunday and Alonso had to fight his way past Massa on the track. Just another indication that Alonso’s days at Ferrari are numbered. . . . Is there any place in the world that isn’t a favourite of F1 drivers in one way or another? BBC announcer Ben Edwards hardly ever starts his commentary at the beginning of F1 broadcasts without mentioning that the circuit they're at, or the city, or the organization, or the ambiance, or the crowd, or the whatever is "a favourite of the drivers." How can you have 19 favourite anythings? . . . Timing is everything. CNN had a report Monday during one of its medical segments about how NASCAR driver Brian Vickers had fought his way back into the cockpit after suffering from blood clots. All well and good – except that Vickers is once again out for the season because the blood clots have returned. Team owner Michael Waltrip will drive Vickers’ car at Talladega next weekend but the team will need a driver for the remaining Chase races. Waltrip Racing will be down to two teams next season, for Clint Bowyer and Vickers. Driver Martin Truex Jr. has been told he can talk to other teams. . . . Speaking of NASCAR, it will announce its 2014 Sprint Cup schedule via teleconference today (Tuesday) at 11:30 a.m. All media are welcome to participate. IndyCar, on the other hand, will announce is 2014 schedule during an NBS Sports Channel presentation next Friday night. I’m sure we’ll get the information up here but as everybody knows, we don’t get that channel . . . The American Le Mans Series finale, the Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta on Saturday, will only be available in Canada on ALMS.com. . . . Billy Dunn of Watertown, N.Y., won the Super DIRT week Syracuse 200 for big block modifieds at the New York State Fairgrounds Sunday after all the big dogs ran out of fuel in the closing laps. Billy Decker, Brett Hearn, Jimmy Phelps and Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Stewart Friesen all ran dry, elevating Dunn to the top step of the podium. In the 358 modified classic on Saturday, Dunn ran dry on the last lap, handing the win to Hearn. . . . Cameron Hayley of Calgary won his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race on Saturday in California. . . . Did I mention that Brad Keselowski won the Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Saturday night and Kyle Busch won the Nationwide Series race on Friday night? Okay, now I did. And Donny Schatz won his 22nd World of Outlaws sprint car series feature at the weekend. Incredible.