Bobby Hamilton Jr. will make his return to racing this season, driving full-time in the ARCA series for Carter 2 Motorsports, the team announced late Thursday.
Hamilton, 36, will make his first start for the team on March 22 at the Mobile ARCA 200 at Mobile (Ala.) International Speedway.
A native of suburban Nashville, Hamilton will drive the No. 40 Carter 2 Motorsports Dodge Charger.
“I’ve always liked running in ARCA,” Hamilton said. “Plus, I love the old school car that’s run in the series. I’m also thrilled to be going back to some of the historic short-tracks that ARCA runs on.”
The son of 2004 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Bobby Hamilton Sr., the younger Hamilton last raced in NASCAR in the Trucks Series in 2011 in a one-off entry. He previously raced last in the Nationwide Series in 2009 and the Sprint Cup Series in 2005.
During his career, Hamilton Jr. made 64 starts in the Sprint Cup Series, 253 in the Nationwide Series events – including five victories – and 37 in the Camping World Truck Series.
“I’m pretty happy to be going back to the tracks that I’ve scored a win at,” said Hamilton, whose NNS wins came at Phoenix, Memphis, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Chicago. “Plus, I’m excited to get back to tracks like Salem Speedway. I ran there at the start of my career. It’s going to be like being a kid again when I go back to that place.”
Hamilton began his racing career in ARCA in 1998 and 1999, acquiring five top-five finishes in eight total starts while driving for Sadler Brothers Racing, of which Carter was a part of at the time.
“It’s a great series with a bunch of competitive teams,” Hamilton said. “I would love to finish in the top-10 in driver points for 2014. I want to run the series until I retire and hopefully score a bunch of victories along the way. ARCA brings my career full-circle. It’s sort of like going back home.”
Hamilton’s father, Bobby Sr., captured the 2004 Camping World Truck Series championship before passing away following a year-long battle with cancer in 2007.
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”