After posting something about Arrow McLaren SP over the weekend — which hopefully you read(!) — I didn’t think I would be writing about them again so quickly.
But here we are.
The week began with speculation as to who McLaren had picked as its two-driver lineup, and ended with the official announcement that gives two young drivers a big opportunity in IndyCar, while a veteran fan-favorite leaves in a shocking decision that couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The team officially made Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward its drivers, while James Hinchcliffe was told that his services would no longer be needed.
With the Lights title, $1 million in funding thanks to said title, and an impressive test with Chip Ganassi Racing in his pocket, Askew was going to find himself somewhere next year, at least with a partial schedule. Finding him in a full-time ride so quickly is a bit of surprise given the seats available and the quality drivers — such as Conor Daly and now Hinch — that are still looking for work next year.
Then again, you can’t go wrong with Askew. In 46 Road to Indy races over the last three years, he has 15 wins, 17 poles and 20 podiums to go with two championships (USF2000 and Lights). He’s also done well in a couple of showcase events in Europe.
At 22 years old, he brings a pretty polished package to IndyCar. He’s a winner, has been quick in everything he’s driven, is good with the media and on social media, and has been impressive both on and off the track since he joined the Road to Indy ladder.
Is he ready for a full-time ride? That remains to be seen, I guess, but for sure he is another of the young American talents that are making their way into the series. I have a feeling we’ll be having the same conversation about Kyle Kirkwood next year.
While Askew was a bit of a surprise, O’Ward certainly wasn’t. Ever since his Red Bull sponsorship fell through McLaren had zoomed in on the 20-year-old Mexican as their first choice. I’m sure having his 2020 plans set in stone are a relief, as O’Ward had to deal with a lot of drama through the winter and into the early spring of 2019 before settling with Carlin for seven races before his departure mid-summer.
Sam Schmidt said that the team couldn’t pass up the pairing of two of the outstanding young drivers in American open wheel racing, but expect some initial growing pains as everyone in the organization gets a feel for each other. It will help that Robert Wickens is staying on as a driver coach, and, hopefully someday, will join the lineup in his familiar No. 6 car. Still, they have a lot of work to do.
But Arrow Schmidt Peterson only had two Top 5 finishes last year between Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson, so the feeling within the camp was more than likely the belief that if they could get that out of their two young drivers, the investment was worth it. Which I believe they will.
Still, it leaves Hinchcliffe in the lurch, and if things went down the way it looks like they did — that Hinchcliffe and his camp were blindsided by the decision to go with Askew and O’Ward — they did him wrong, especially given the timing. And, as we are finding out today, AMSP continues to double down on their PR mess by saying that they are willing to pay Hinchcliffe his estimated salary of $500K next year if he shows up at the races and acts as a sort of team “ambassador”.
What? You hang a guy out to dry like this, pretty much fire him, then tell him the only way he gets paid is if he comes to the track and plays nice? Who in the world is making these decisions? AMSP is pretty much cratering all goodwill in the paddock and its fanbase is now shrinking daily. I know $500K is a lot of money to walk away from, especially when there is no guarantee of future income, but if I were Hinch I’d cross the bridge, take a flamethrower to it, and walk away.
You don’t treat people that way, you just don’t. I understand the whole “it’s not personal, it’s business” thing, but there is a big difference between an amicable parting and an absolute shafting. This fits under the latter category.
Unless new seats are created, and there are a couple of possibilities, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan being one of them, Hinchcliffe could be on the outside looking in next season.
Another issue is that, despite his popularity, Hinchcliffe has only has two wins and seven additional podiums over the last four years, and the last time he finished better than 10th in the standings was 2013, when he placed eighth. He also has only one Top 10 finish at Indianapolis since 2013 as well. With that kind of performance, the timing of his release couldn’t have been worse because his stock isn’t in the best of places.
Still, it would behoove the series to find a way to work him onto a team next season. Actually, it would behoove McLaren as well, because the PR and image hit their are taking with the fans could be almost unprecedented. IndyCar has a dedicated, loyal fanbase, and lots of them have long memories. If Hinchcliffe does find a ride for next year it might soften the blow that McLaren is taking right now.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of Hinch and I hope he finds room somewhere next year, at least in a partial-season capacity, and for sure at the Indy 500. It would be weird going through the season with him on the sidelines.
Remembering Greg Moore
October 31 marks the 20th (somber) anniversary of the death of Greg Moore. Moore was just 24 years old when he was killed during the early stages of the CART race at Fontana in 1999. Moore was the total package behind the wheel — fast, aggressive, confident and brave. At the time of his accident he had five wins and 17 podiums in his first 72 open wheel starts.
I wrote about Greg in early 2011, speculating on what was to come in his career, which was limitless. He had already signed on with Team Penske for the 2000 season, and had more than a passing interest in NASCAR. Another thing to keep in mind is that he was four months younger than Tony Kanaan, meaning it’s possible he could still be competing today.
IndyCar racing lost a huge piece of its future the day it lost Greg. Red gloves rule.
Pit Lane Parley
Host Mike, Jess and Matt get to the bottom of all of the AMSP drama this week in an episode you don’t want to miss. You can hear it on iTunes, or your favorite listening platform.
Photo credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media