James Hinchcliffe paused, cleared his throat, paused again and sighed before answering whether the shock of his dismissal from Arrow McLaren SP in October had subsided.
“I mean, time has passed, but the shock of the situation is still very real,” he said Friday in a phone interview.
The Canadian IndyCar driver was put out of work with one year remaining on his contract and has been scrambling all winter to find a ride for this upcoming season.
Hinchcliffe revealed some good news earlier this week after inking a sponsorship deal with American-based technology company Genesys that will see him race the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 9 and Indianapolis 500 on May 24.
The 33-year-old from Oakville, Ont., said it’s been nice to get some positive news and momentum from the seven-figure deal. His team and Genesys first made contact in November and Hinchcliffe said for a deal to come together this quickly is unheard of.
“We still kind of pinch ourselves, look across the table every night at dinner, like ‘Man, I still can’t believe this happened this quickly,’” he said.
As for who Hinchcliffe will race for is another question. Details of which team he would partner up with for the May races hasn’t been fully decided and details are still being worked out, he said. His team is still trying to make sure they find the right fit both from a competition and partner perspective.
One thing that is most likely is the Canadian won’t be racing full-time in 2020. The IndyCar season gets started on March 15 with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“I think realistically speaking, at this point, a full season is not a high probability,” Hinchcliffe said. “Just without the funding in place for a full season you can’t go and hire the people and acquire the equipment needed to be on the grid and in time for St. Pete.
“It’s a sad reality but it’s our reality at this point.”
Hinchcliffe said he was unable to comment on the details of his break-up with Arrow McLaren SP, a team he had been apart of since 2015. He’s not the only popular driver in the IndyCar Series to lose out on a ride for the upcoming season with Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais losing his job with Dale Coyne Racing.
Hinchcliffe finished last season 12th in the driver standings after starting 17 races. He had one top-five finish by coming third at the Iowa 300 and finished in the top 10 on eight occasions. The second half of his season was turbulent with some car failure leading to poor results.
Before 2019, he had one win apiece on the circuit in the two years prior.
Hinchcliffe said his situation this off-season has seen the story change upwards to three times a day, every day and can sometimes be difficult.
He maintains daily contact with close friend Robert Wickens, a Guelph, Ont., native who joined Hinchcliffe with Arrow McLaren SP in 2018 before a crash that August at Pocono left him with severe injuries, including a bruised spinal cord. Wickens continues to recover with hopes of walking again and Hinchcliffe said his friend continues to make progress.
Preparation for this season has been mostly the same for Hinchcliffe, and he said he’s tried to plan as though he would be doing every lap and session of every race weekend. He said he plans on being at every race with a helmet and suit in case someone needs him to jump in as a sub.
Trying to stay focused is one of his main priorities and his team’s vision is looking forward, not behind, for both this year and 2021.
“Our eyes are very firmly on the future and building the best season that we can put together for 2020, not just in the IndyCar Series,” Hinchcliffe said.
“We’ve got some other very cool opportunities that we’re exploring and hope to be able to announce some of that stuff in the coming months.”