Rahal, Coyne express interest in talking to James Hinchcliffe

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen
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NTT IndyCar Series team owners Bobby Rahal and Dale Coyne both told NBCSports.com Tuesday morning they are interested in talking to popular driver James Hinchcliffe, who has been released by Arrow McLaren Racing SP.

However, both team owners admitted it will be very difficult to find the necessary sponsorship dollars to increase their respective teams to three-car operations this late in the offseason.

Although the NTT IndyCar Series season does not begin until the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15, 2020, this is the time of year that teams need to have next season’s plans in place. For a team expanding in car count, that means hiring additional crew members and ordering extra equipment.

Both take a significant amount of money.

Rahal phoned NBCSports.com from Italy early Tuesday morning to talk about his interest in Hinchcliffe, a popular driver from Oakville, Ontario, who used to be teammates with Rahal’s son, Graham, at Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing. Rahal is one of the owners of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, featuring Graham Rahal and 101st Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato of Tokyo.

“I think it’s a shame for James, especially at this late stage, because a lot of teams are set for next year,” Rahal told NBCSports.com. “While we would love to have James at some level, we don’t have the money at this point.

“We’ll work on seeing what is possible if we can, but the odds are not favoring that right now. I’m in Italy, and when we get back tomorrow, we’re going to start to work on this. Again, I think the odds are not in his favor, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try.”

Rahal has known Hinchcliffe since he started racing go-karts as a kid against Graham Rahal. He would like to help him revive his career.

In order to do that, however, it takes money.

“Ultimately, the funding has to be there,” Rahal said. “I like James and I want to help him, but we are at the beginning stages of that. The odds are really against him because it’s so late. The odds are not good, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t want to help him in some way.

“This really puts James in a bad spot because who is out there. He doesn’t have any sponsorship money, so that doesn’t help. We haven’t spoken with James, but I plan on speaking with him when I return from Italy at the end of the week.

“Our third deal may still be out there, but nobody has made any commitments. It could be next week, or it could be in a few months.

“Right now, we just don’t know.”

Hinchcliffe was Honda’s commercial spokesman for both Honda Canada and American Honda. The well-liked driver has a great personality and was the runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2016, just one year after he was nearly killed in an Indianapolis 500 practice crash on May 18, 2015.

Closer to home, another Honda team that could possibly expand if it can find additional sponsorship is Dale Coyne Racing.

The two-car team features four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais teamed with famed engineer Craig Hampson in the No. 18 Honda in the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan entry. The No. 19 Honda is expected to be filled with talented 21-year-old Santino Ferrucci of Connecticut, though Coyne told NBCSports.com that deal has not been completed.

“It’s interesting timing, we’ll see,” Coyne told NBCSports.com. “I’m still confident we will have Santino back.

“It’s pretty close. I expect to have it completed by the end of next week. We test next Tuesday at Sebring, so right after that we plan on getting Santino’s deal completed.”

Ferrucci’s engineer, Michael Cannon, left Dale Coyne Racing for Chip Ganassi Racing earlier this month, but Coyne said Olivier Boisson will move over to become the engineer for the No. 19 entry.

Coyne was asked if he had interest in talking to Hinchcliffe about a third entry on the team.

“Yes,” Coyne said. “Craig Hampson has a lot of time for James Hinchcliffe. He worked with him and likes him a lot. I like James, but I’ve never worked with him, and Craig has.

“We have not had any conversations with him yet, but I heard he is going to call us today. I need to have a conversation, see where he is at, what support and sponsorship he has now. I’m sure Honda is supporting him.

“Is it enough for us to make a three-car program work?”

Both Rahal and Coyne were shocked that Hinchcliffe is no longer part of Arrow McLaren Racing SP. That team is expected to announce 2018 Indy Lights champion Pato O’Ward and 2019 Indy Lights title winner Oliver Askew as its drivers later this week.

“Where else is Hinch going to go?” Coyne asked. “It’s us or Rahal. Chip Ganassi already increased to three cars when they hired Marcus Ericsson.”

Ericsson was Hinchcliffe’s teammate this past season at Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports because it merged with McLaren. Ericsson was told at the time of the merger he would not be part of the team and had time to put a deal together with Chip Ganassi Racing.

NBCSports.com contacted Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull to gauge the team’s interest in increasing to a four-car operation to hire Hinchcliffe.

Hull declined comment because he doesn’t want to dissuade any other possibilities Hinchcliffe may have regarding a car in 2020.

“It’s disappointing to hear about the situation, but I’m sure because who he is, someone will sort it out for him,” Hull told NBCSports.com. “I wish him the best.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”