James Hinchcliffe was surprised and disappointed when he was dismissed from Arrow McLaren SP last October. Now he sees it as an opportunity to live out all his racing fantasies.
The 33-year-old from Oakville, Ont., has won six IndyCar Series races over the past nine years — and is gearing up for at least two open-wheel events on that circuit this season — but now that he's not on a team, he has the free time to try new things. Hinchcliffe is going to make 2020 his "gap year."
"If it's got four wheels and an engine, I'm into it," said Hinchcliffe in a phone interview on Monday. "There's a lot of races on the bucket list. First and foremost of the ones that I haven't done already would obviously be the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I've always wanted to try a stock car, maybe do a stock car race, one of the road courses, something like that. Those are a few of the options we're looking at as well."
Hinchcliffe signed a deal with American telecommunications company Genesys last week that will see him race the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 9 and Indianapolis 500 on May 24. The partnership began in a distinctly modern way.
"Genesys slid into my DMs. That's no joke there was actually an employee from Genesys who reached out via Instagram direct message shortly after news broke of my situation (with Arrow McLaren), and that is really how the conversation started," Hinchcliffe said. "I don't know if it's the first time in history that's ever happened, but it's certainly the first time it's ever happened to me.
"What impressed me the most was it's not necessarily the kind of program that turns into a title sponsorship for the biggest race on Earth."
Hinchcliffe said on Monday that he's still in negotiations for a new race team and that he's narrowed the possibilities down to a handful of organizations to help him get back to full-time status on the IndyCar Series. Because of those ongoing talks Hinchcliffe couldn't get into many details but he is looking toward the future and trying out new things in the world of racing.
"It's like when you graduate from school and you travel the world for a year before you go get a job," Hinchcliffe said. "The IndyCar schedule and the demands of full time IndyCar drivers are so great that a lot of these other opportunities, they're just not realistic during a full IndyCar campaign.
"But with the way this year is shaping up, there are some doors opening and certainly some more options available that hopefully won't be there next year because I'll be back full time."
Hinchcliffe and his management team have several dates on the IndyCar calendar circled for races he'd like to be in. He was quiet on what races he's looking into but said he will be in Toronto for the Honda Indy on July 10-12 in some capacity.
"I think regardless of driving status at that race this year, I still plan to figure in to the event and be a key part of the promotion," Hinchcliffe said. "Whatever benefits the Honda Indy Toronto, benefits my city, my sport, and if I'm unfortunately not going to be behind the wheel, I'm going to do anything and everything I can working with (race promoters) Green Savoree and working with IndyCar to still be very present at that event."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2020.
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press