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.
The third car in the Ganassi stable is driven by Charlie Kimball and backed by Novo Nordisk, which makes insulin products for diabetics. Kimball is the first diabetic to drive in the IndyCar Series and it’s a safe bet that Novo Nordisk will stay with him for the long haul. Kimball also just scored his first career IndyCar win last weekend in the Honda 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which probably has his Novo Nordisk backers and Ganassi bosses quite pleased.
With the three existing seats at Ganassi seemingly locked up, it is possible that Hinchcliffe and Go Daddy would move to there and have it run a fourth car, but it would likely have to be to be a long-term deal for the outfit which usually doesn’t just cash cheques in return for logos on its cars. Target has been with Ganassi for 24 seasons in IndyCar, with the relationship going back to 1990, while Novo Nordisk is in season three. Both do much more with the outfit than just sponsor racing.
For example, Dixon, Franchitti, and NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya are involved with Target House, a residence opened by the retailer at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. It is for families with a child receiving treatment at the hospital. The trio of drivers visited the facility earlier this week. Last month, the team’s Indianapolis headquarters hosted the first St. Jude Culinary 500, which raised more than $200,000 for the hospital. With Novo Nordisk’s support, Kimball is involved in diabetes awareness and won a Jefferson Award last year for his work. The award honours community service and volunteerism and is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Public Service.”
While things remain constant at Ganassi, it is thought that Irving is re-evaluating the company’s racing program, which also includes NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, who has been backed by Go Daddy since 2010.
That could mean it’s possible Hinchcliffe will sign a short-term deal to stay with Go Daddy as it decides on the direction it wants to take with its racing program, and then move into the No. 10 Target car when Franchitti retires.
And with Franchitti and Hinchcliffe close off the track, it could be assumed that the Scotsman might try to time his exit to ensure there’s an open seat for his pal at Ganassi when his next Go Daddy deal expires.
Since Irving took over, the company has refocussed its direction with a goal of highlighting the key role it can play for small business well beyond domain registration and expanding the public’s perception of Go Daddy as a company.
“Yes, we are the largest company in the domain space in the world – we have 50 per cent worldwide market share and 65 per cent in North America but that’s not the only thing we are about,” he said.
“We are about this little small business customer who has an idea, wants do something unique with it, knows what they want to name it and goes online and names it and then thinks ’now what do I do?’ Where you will see us focussed in a big way over the next 12 months – the next 5 to 10 years – is making it easy to get that person from idea, out into the marketplace to have them running a functioning business and then feeling like they have a giant capable pitcrew behind them helping them get business.”
Only time will tell whether Hinchcliffe fits into that strategy.
Last chance for Fellows
Ron Fellows gets behind the of the No. 33 Canadian Tire Chevrolet SS for his second and final NASCAR Sprint Cup start on Sunday in the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.
The race at the track where Fellows, 53, has won in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series just might be his last shot at scoring an elusive Cup win.
The Mississauga, Ont., driver should be ready after a two-day test last week at “The Glen” with his Circle Sport Team, which gets its engines and technical support from the powerhouse Richard Childress operation.
“It’s a real bonus to get to test, particularly for me when I’m not driving nearly as much,” Fellows said.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity with Circle Sport Racing and appreciate the effort that the team and also Richard Childress Racing have put together for me and for Canadian Tire.”
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone