It’s thought that Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe will be free to negotiate with teams for a 2014 ride by the middle of August, but in reality there are only two real possibilities for the IndyCar star.
The 26-year-old’s contract with Go Daddy expires at the end of the season but talking to its newish chief executive Blake Irving, it sounds like an offer to continue with the company is in the cards for Hinchcliffe.
“First of all, James is a guy who personifies small business: Somebody who had an idea, knew what they wanted to do and put their heart and soul into it and then built a career out of a passion and that’s exactly the same thing small businesses do,” Irving said during Honda Indy weekend in Toronto last month.
“From my perspective he personifies everything that our customers identify with and the guy is a wonderful spokesman, he very human, has got a great sense of humour, represents our company the way that we like to be represented which is funny, irreverent, we get things done quickly and we have a lot of passion for what we do.”
Irving insisted the company is “incredibly happy” with the No. 27 driver’s season, and its relationship with Hinchcliffe’s team, Andretti Autosport.
Hinchcliffe’s timing has been pretty good for Go Daddy, too, with his May win in Brazil coming as the Internet services company was in the midst of preparing for a move into Latin and South America later this year and early in 2014. He is also a big part of the company’s plans to expand into Canada, although Irving sees him as someone who can market Go Daddy just about everywhere.
Coincidently, as the Oakville driver about to hit the job market, he is also helping Go Daddy with recruiting after heading to Seattle this week to appear at a job fair where his backer hoped to lure software talent away from some of the companies out west, including Microsoft, where Irving worked as an executive for almost a decade. Irving joined Go Daddy in January after a two-year stint as executive vice-president at Yahoo!. When the topic of the future comes up, Irving insisted with a huge laugh that he would never compromise a negotiating position, but added quickly that “it is clear to us that James is going to be important and racing is what we are known for and I’d say that will definitely continue to be part of our plans.”
While he would not talk details, Irving insisted that the company is getting value for money from the partnership and is getting good return on its investment.
Although his name has been linked to some other series such as Formula One, the only other logical place Hinchcliffe could land is likely the Chip Ganassi outfit, whose long-time partner Target has just embarked on the largest ever retail expansion into Canada.
When asked, Target Chip Ganassi Racing said it will not discuss its driver or sponsor contracts.
Although having the affable Canadian and his marketing savvy help to roll out its presence north of the U.S. border would likely be valuable, the Target Ganassi team has never traditionally run more than two cars under the retailer’s banner and there’s no indication to think 2014 will be any different.
In addition, the two Target drivers, four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti and two-time IndyCar champion and active IndyCar wins leader Scott Dixon, have shown no signs of slowing down.
That said, Franchitti is now 40 and can’t go on racing forever, although he said in Toronto that he has no plans to hang up his gloves in the immediate future.
“I’ll do it as long as I am competitive and as long as I’m enjoying it, and the two are linked,” Franchitti said.
“If I am running around the back at Iowa because it’s me, then I am not going to be doing it for long. But when the time comes, who knows? A couple of years? I don’t know. But these guys (Ganassi) – they are all a good bunch of guys but they won’t keep me around longer than I am competitive and I wouldn’t want to be the weak link in the chain. I wouldn’t want a team this good to sitting there going ’we should be winning races but they are not because the driver is not up to it.’”
Franchitti had a bit of a slow start in 2013, including a disastrous late June race on the short oval in Iowa where they got everything wrong an he finished four laps down in 20th place. His Ganassi squad has surged of late, and Franchitti is now sixth overall in points. With three podiums in his last four starts, it doesn’t look like Franchitti is having any trouble keeping up.