The good news for Hinchcliffe is that his performance in 2011 was noticed by many in the paddock. His phone rang more than a few times since the season ended as teams inquired about his plans for 2012. So, while losing Newman/Haas is a setback, the decision came early enough in the off-season to allow Hinchcliffe to initiate a Plan B.
Even though his time with the team ended rather abruptly, it won't change the way the Oakville, Ont., native feels about starting his career with such a famed outfit.
“If you had told me that I would drive for Newman/Haas at some point in my racing career, I would have been over the moon, but to have gotten to do it in my rookie year was incredible,” said Hinchcliffe.
“They took a big risk on me signing a rookie and it’s cool that we were able to repay them with a successful campaign and ultimately their last title by winning rookie of the year. That will be the last championship they have in their history and it was incredible to have that opportunity as a driver.”
In the end, the final nail for Newman-Haas may have been the new Dallara chassis being introduced by IndyCar in 2012 that required the teams to purchase new several chassis, sign new engine deals, and make sure they have enough spare parts in the shop for a season of running.
Ironically, the clean slate of a new car may have been exactly the situation what the team needed to recreate some of its old success.
“I think that with a new car, the engineering capabilities of that team would have been able to tackle it and deal with that challenge better than most,” Hinchcliffe said.
“I think we were sitting in a position to do quite well — it’s an unfortunate situation now that were are never going to get to realize that potential.”
While the timing of the news helps the team’s drivers, it also makes things easier on the crew. The out-of-work Newman/Haas engineers and mechanics now have a few months to search for spots at other teams, something that Wilson feels won’t be difficult for the well-respected outfit’s castoffs.
“I have had a couple of phone calls already from teams wanting to hire people from the team already,” he said.
“I think anybody having worked at Newman/Haas will have a good reputation and pick up a job elsewhere in the sport pretty quickly.”
Andretti stayed close to the team even after retirement and was often seen in its hospitality area on race weekends.
His highlight in a dozen years with the outfit was racing as a teammate with son Michael, who joined him at Newman/Haas in 1989.
“To have Michael as my teammate, as a father it doesn’t get any better than that,” Andretti said.
“I think his joining the team gave me longevity in my career. That became a precious part of my career and it was all due to Newman/Haas.”
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