Defining "Silly Season": Hinchtown-Powered Handlebar, Pagenaud to Penske & Potential 2015 Drivers

No comments

Eleven.

It’s the amount of hours I spent in my SUV last Tuesday, making the round trip from Cleveland to Indianapolis and yep, back to Cleveland.

It’s the number namesake to the Circle City’s professional soccer team – the Indy Eleven.

And it’s also the year (2011) when James Hinchcliffe entered the IndyCar Series and ended up clinching the Rookie of the Year title.

What is the real connection between all these seemingly random facts? They all came together last week to help make the announcement of Hinchcliffe’s multi-year deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – and oh boy, was it an evening to remember! The night started out as a casual mingling at Flat 12 Bierworks on the outskirts of Downtown Indianapolis, leading into a press conference where the news of Hinchcliffe’s new contract was made official and details released publicly.

DSC_0117Shortly after the presser, a group of us climbed aboard the leg-powered HandleBar Indy pedal pubs and headed out on a race through downtown Indianapolis to the first pre-season Indiana Pacers game of the season. We maneuvered our way through town, slightly trailing our opponents, the Indy Eleven soccer team! However, James’ expertise came into play as we took the first pit box and strategized our run/pitstop at Bakersfield! James entered & exited the restaurant right on one of the soccer players’ heels, but our pit exit strategy was far quicker and at this point we had standing starts DOWN! We left the “pits” in the lead!
We held on to this position for the remainder of the race – there was a moment when the Indy Eleven team gained on us and tried to take the inside but James got everyone pumped up and Team Hinchtown rallied to a victory in front of Banker’s Life Fieldhouse! I was honored to be a part of Hinch’s team and it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget – well worth the drive there and back in a single day. We all reveled in our win and tailgated at the trolley’s with our appetizers from Bakersfield. If you haven’t been there, make sure you order the guacamole to start your meal – I mean, wow.

DSC_0118Hinchcliffe continued to field questions from media members after the ride and about his new team. Back at Flat 12 Bierworks, it was mentioned that his contract was “effective immediately”, prompting Hinch to comment that he doubted there would be cakes or streamers, but rather they would be in the shop tomorrow! The move to a smaller team is like going home for Hinch, as he made mention of race teams feeling like families – a sentiment that all dedicated race fans & media members can relate to, as we refer to our passion & those that share it with us, in the same way.

Hinchcliffe will be piloting the #77, vacated earlier this off-season by Simon Pagenaud, who signed a contract with Team Penske, making that team the third 4-car team in the Verizon IndyCar Series for 2015. Pagenaud joins current IndyCar Champion Will Power, Championship runner-up & 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Helio Castroneves, as well as Juan Pablo Montoya who returned to the IndyCar Series after stints in NASCAR and F1 to show he still has what it takes to be competitive, winning the Pocono 500 this past July and keeping himself high in the points standings throughout the season. The Penske team boasts accomplishments & proven talent across the board as well as diversity with drivers hailing from Australia, Brazil, Colombia and now France. With all three of the 2014 Championship contenders allying as teammates in 2015 – could Penske end up dominating IndyCar even more so than this most recent season?

The aero kits and movement of drivers within other team structures will definitely make next year an interesting and strategically played one. All aspects of racing, career experience, and the sharing of data between team members will be crucial for success – my guess is that the one-car teams may end up finding themselves at more of a disadvantage than in previous years, so I hope to see owners like Rahal & Foyt add drivers to their roster. Adding cars is not only a good move for the current drivers they have but it’s what the fans want. Honestly, it’s what the fans have been begging for, for quite some time now. With a series like IndyCar, so heavily driven by loyal fans, the series and these team owners in particular, need to find a way to feature new young talent or the series takes the risk of losing out on guys like Sage Karam, to full time rides in other competitive series like the TUDOR United SportsCar Series. Absolutely nothing is official yet for Karam, but a move to SportsCar racing is not something I would be surprised by if it came to fruition. There are also mumblings about Karam replacing Ryan Briscoe at Ganassi in 2015, but we have to practice patience as we wait for all the puzzle pieces of silly season to fall into place.

Regardless of how 2015 turns out, allowing a current Indy Lights Champion to sit out an entire year, only giving him a one-off ride in May (where by the way, he did phenomenally), is simply unacceptable. I love this series as much as anyone else who lives & breathes it, so when we have individuals like Sage Karam, Conor Daly, Tristan Vautier, Pippa Mann and JR Hildebrand roaming the pits & paddock on race weekends and being amazing with fans and media, in street clothes instead of firesuits… we need to step back and ask why? Do the series & Dallara need to make the adding of additional cars more financially accessible for these smaller teams? Do the team owners need to bite the bullet and just take the risk – seeing as how risk is really what racing is about at its core, in the first place? I say yes to both.

Make multiple car teams a realistic option so we can create the best possible competition environment. We all know the Verizon IndyCar Series is the best racing on the planet, so let’s take the necessary steps (which are more numerous than what I’ve listed here, I’m aware) to make it so glaringly obvious, that the rest of the world has no choice but to take note and observe us in pure wonderment. Let’s impress them to the point that they can’t wait for the next race weekend. Let’s get them watching, get them hooked, and get this series back to the top of the racing podium… where it belongs.

*   *   *