Michael Andretti announced this week that James Hinchcliffe has joined Andretti Autosport and will drive the team’s Go-Daddy car in a three-car team with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti. Michael says he hopes to add a fourth car before the season begins.
Hinchcliffe, 25, comes from Toronto and ran his rookie IndyCar season last year with Newman/Haas where he was teamed with veteran Oriol Servia. Hinchcliffe led at Mid-Ohio and finished fourth in three races, beating JR Hildebrand to IndyCar’s rookie of the year honours. When Newman/Haas closed its doors in December Andretti decided the promising Hinchcliffe was just the man to fill the void in his team created by Danica Patrick’s move to NASCAR and Dan Wheldon’s death in Las Vegas last October.
Prior to his death Wheldon had agreed to replace Patrick in Andretti’s Go-Daddy-sponsored car and Michael explained why he selected Hinchcliffe to fill Wheldon’s shoes. “What caught my eye last year was Oriol is a very good, very experienced and very fast guy,” Andretti remarked. “And many times and many places James out-raced Oriol and out-qualified him. That said something. That was a good benchmark to look at.
“We’re really excited to have James join us,” Andretti went on to say. “We feel like he’s going to fit right in. I think he’s going to be really good with the chemistry with Marco and Ryan. He did an awesome job last year. He proved that he can run up front and he’s a great personality. He’s going to be perfect for our team.
“When you have a multi-driver team it’s very important that everybody gets along and we feel that the three of them are going to get along really well. I think James is a team player. I asked Marco and Ryan their opinions of James and they both had high marks for him. So that made it a no-brainer. You’ve got to have good drivers who are capable of winning and I think we’ve put together a really strong driver line-up. I’m really excited about it.”
After many years with Honda Andretti’s team has switched this year to Ilmor’s new Chevrolet turbo V6. Hunter-Reay has driven IndyCar’s Dallara-Chevrolet test car and the team will start testing the first of its own cars and engines this coming weekend at the West Palm Beach road course in Florida before moving on to IndyCar’s open four-day test at Sebring the following week.
“I’m excited about the way things have been going with Chevrolet,” Michael said. “We’ve got a lot of development programmes we’re doing within the team and the excitement on the floor of our shop and in the engineering room is quite high. We have high expectations for coming out strong right away.”
Hunter-Reay will drive for two days at West Palm Beach. Marco Andretti (above with Wheldon) then takes over for two days with Hinchcliffe running his first test with the team at Sebring the following week. “We have a pretty aggressive test programme,” Michael said. “We were involved in every one of the tests so far with Chevrolet and I think we’ve learned a lot. It’s been good for us and helps us to get going with our own cars. We’ll start on Saturday at West Palm Beach. We’ll be on the track for the first time with our own cars and we’re ready for it. The guys have been working extra hours to get the car prepared.
“We’ve got a lot of days booked before the start of the year. We’re flat out on it. We’re going to be out every week for sure. Right now we have only one car. We get our second car next week and then we’ll start running two cars and multiple drivers at each test.
“We’re working hard on a fourth car,” Michael added. “We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. The chances I would say are 60 to 70 per cent, definitely better than 50-50. Hopefully, we’ll have something done in about two or three weeks.”