If the rumour mill is to be believed, Canadian James Hinchcliffe will be driving a Go Daddy-backed Williams in Formula One next year. And, maybe, just maybe, his teammate will be Elvis.
The truth, of course, is a bit less outlandish, with Hinchcliffe, 26, likely signing with an IndyCar team soon after the season wraps up on Saturday with the MAVTV 500 at Fontana, Calif.’s, Auto Club Speedway.
While many teams and series have been bandied about, from F1 to NASCAR, Hinchcliffe, of Oakville, Ont., will probably stay with Andretti Autosport where he’s found a home and has been a key part of the team’s success. It was thought that a move to KVSH Racing (formerly KV Racing Technologies) could be in the cards after it put together a sponsorship package for its driver Tony Kanaan only to see him sign with the Ganassi outfit for next season, leaving a funded seat open. That possibility went out the window when it was confirmed Thursday that KV filled the spot with Sebastian Bourdais.
While the speculation continues, one thing is clear: It’s certainly nice to be the one courted rather than be running around looking for backing, something that happened every winter when he was trying to make it up the ladder to IndyCar.
“It’s good to be wanted by teams,” said Hinchcliffe, who has three wins in 18 starts this year.
“You strive your whole career to be in a position where you have some longevity and when you are being approached in a contract year, it’s a good sign. Hopefully, we can come out where we want to be.”
Whether or not Go Daddy will continue as his primary sponsor is also in doubt, as the Internet services company continues to re-evaluate its involvement in motorsport.
Although Andretti has said Go Daddy will not be back, the company insisted that a decision on its future with IndyCar has not been made. Hinchcliffe signed with Andretti before the 2012 season, replacing Danica Patrick, who now races a Go Daddy-backed car in NASCAR.
Going into the final race of the year in what might be his last drive in a bright green car, Hinchcliffe is ninth in points and a good result, combined with some trouble for certain drivers ahead of him, could put him as high as sixth when the chequered flag flies on Saturday. He can’t finish any worse than ninth when the 2013 season ends.
No matter what happens in the race, seeing the season end always brings mixed feelings.
“You always feel sad going into the last race because you never want it to be over,” he said.
“From our point of view, it’s been no secret that our season has been up and down but we are definitely proud of what we achieved with the Go Daddy car this year. I just want to go there and try to have a solid race and end on a high – you always want to go into the off-season in a good mood and a strong result at Fontana will do that.”
While Hinchcliffe looks to get a solid finish to close out 2013, he will also be keeping an eye out for championship leader Scott Dixon of the Ganassi team and title rival Helio Castroneves, who drives for Penske.
With 50 points up for grabs in Fontana, only Castroneves has a shot at overtaking the two-time IndyCar champion for the title. The Brazilian is 25 points back and will need some luck to add a title to his three Indianapolis 500 victories since a fifth-place finish is all Dixon needs to sew up his third championship.
Although he wants to run his race and get the best finish possible, Hinchcliffe also doesn’t want to become factor in deciding the season champion. He also isn’t about to pick a favourite to win the title.
“Man that’s so tough just because we have seen in the past couple of years what can happen in the last race and even a comfortable margin can evaporate very quickly,” he said.
“At a track like Fontana, we run low downforce setting and cars are so on edge that it’s really easy to be caught off-guard. Scott has a comfortable lead and a lot of momentum but Helio’s guys have done things right all year and this is the closest track to Texas where he had his one win so it’s going to be a good battle no matter how you cut it up.”
A wildcard in California may be the fact that Dixon will be lacking a familiar face in his sister Target car after his teammate Dario Franchitti suffered season-ending injuries to his back and right ankle in a high speed crash two weeks ago in a race on the streets of Houston, Texas. The four-time IndyCar champion will be replaced by Canadian Alex Tagliani, who parted ways with Barracuda Racing in August.
While Ganassi understands that Franchitti’s absence throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the equation, Dixon feels the team made the right choice in the experienced Canadian, who looked to be on his way to a win last year in Fontana before his engine let go.
The team is counting on Tagliani’s 14 years of IndyCar experience to help him hit the ground running and play a key role in supporting Dixon’s title aspirations.
“It’s a tough situation for anybody to be in,” Dixon said.
“I think Tag was a solid choice. And obviously last year Alex was very fast at Fontana until he had a mechanical issue and exited the race, but he was running, I think, in first or second position for most of the later parts of it. So welcome to the team, and as I said, he’s a good friend and a hell of a competitor.”
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone