Newsstand » James Hinchcliffe heads into fourth season on IndyCar circuit with new sponsor, new engine
TORONTO — The first thing that you notice about James Hinchcliffe is his wardrobe.
It’s more — how do you put it — presentable. Gone is the lime green colour scheme of his former sponsor GoDaddy.com. Instead, on a chilly Wednesday afternoon in the city, the Oakville, Ont., Indy Car driver is sitting upstairs at Steam Whistle Brewing wearing a subtle black golf shirt that bears an understated blue-and-white logo of his new sponsor, United Fiber & Data.
Has Hinchcliffe gone corporate? No way, he says.
While United Fiber & Data sounds like the kind of company Go Daddy would parody in its off-beat commercials (which used to star Hinchcliffe), it is actually a broadband networking company owned by members of the 1990s alternative band, Live.
“I’m basically sponsored by rock stars,” Hinchcliffe says proudly. “It makes the possibility of fun pretty endless. I think that was a big part of the appeal. They saw what Go Daddy did with me and they want to do that too. They like the fact that I’m not a stuck-in-the-corporate-box type of driver, because they’re very much not that way.”
It’s still not Go Daddy, a multi-media sponsor that helped market Danica Patrick and also made Hinchcliffe a sort of a celebrity by plastering his face on billboards. That much was apparent when Hinchcliffe arrived to the track one day to get a look at his new car.
“It’s completely different,” he says of the paint job. “The Go Daddy car was easy to spot from Mars. It might not be as easy to spot [his new car] out on track, but hopefully if we’re running up front it will be.”
Up front is where Hinchcliffe began last season, where he picked up his first Indy Car win in the first race of the series in St. Petersburg, Fla. It was a breakout year for the 27-year-old, who won twice more in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Iowa. But he struggled with consistency and ended up eighth in the overall rankings for the second straight year.
With a new sponsor and a new car engine — his team, Andretti Autosport, switched from Chevrolet to Honda — Hinchcliffe is hoping that he can put it all together for his fourth season on the circuit, which begins on March 30 in St. Petersburg.
“Last year was an up and down year from the start,” he says. “The second-half was a little more consistent but we didn’t quite have the pace. Now, we have to combine those two elements. We need the pace from the first part of the year and the consistency from the second-part of the year.
“If you do that, I think you have a pretty legitimate championship contending program.”
This is an interesting time for IndyCar. Legendary driver Dario Franchitti, who had been the face of the series — or “the hair of the series,” as Hinchcliffe jokes — retired at the end of last season. And while others, like New Zealand’s Scott Dixon and American Ryan-Hunter Reay, have also been successful, there is an opportunity for someone new to push the sport back into the spotlight.
“Obviously, it’s going to be weird not having Dario on the track,” says Hinchcliffe. “He’s been the dominant force since 2009, so it will be interesting to see if anyone rises to the challenge and takes that mantle.”
Right now, Hinchcliffe is not concerned about creating a legacy. He is too worried about the first race of the season. Hinchcliffe has only been driving the new Honda car since December and he said the learning curve has been “pretty steep.” With just four weeks until he defends his title at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, there is a lot to get done.
“It’s always fun to go to St. Pete, because it’s the first race so you’re kind of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and the rest of the year is full of possibilities,” he says. “It’s definitely going to be extra special this year after what happened in 2013. But the sad reality is what we did last year means absolutely nothing this year, so we have to do our jobs again.
“Like I said, it’s a challenge.”