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Sam Schmidt addresses decision to replace Hinchcliffe; Wickens status with IndyCar team

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Sam Schmidt confirmed that James Hinchcliffe remains under contract to Arrow McLaren Racing SP but will not be driving for the team in 2020. He also said the popular 31-year-old driver from Canada is free to negotiate a deal with another team in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Schmidt, who merged his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team with McLaren with the new operation beginning competition next season, also said Robert Wickens remains part of the team as a “driver coach and consultant.” Wickens continues to recover from spinal injuries that have left him with partial use of his legs but continues to make impressive progress in his recovery and rehabilitation.

Schmidt also said Arrow McLaren Racing SP plans to enter a third car in next year’s Indianapolis 500, but there is no agreement or plan in place at this time for two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso to be in that car.

“It certainly remains an option, but nothing’s been confirmed,” Schmidt said Wednesday. “We absolutely have had a history of 12 years of running a third car at Indy and still plan to do that and Fernando remains an option but nothing’s confirmed.”

Should Wickens ever fully recover to resume racing, Schmidt said the No. 6 Chevrolet will be available to him to race.

“I think Robert continues to inspire and motivate and just amaze everybody on a daily basis,” Schmidt said. “Because he’s continuing the program, he’s continuing to improve, he is a part of the team as a driver coaching consultant and will continue.

“And I think that’s one of the major assets we have that Oliver Askew was talking about in that he will be there at a majority of the races next year assisting these young guys to get acclimated as quick as they can.

“So he’s part of the team, but also he’s got a major focus on his rehabilitation and he’s hell bent on driving again and I wouldn’t bet against him.”

While that prospect remains a long way into the future, Hinchcliffe has lost his ride. It was officially announced on Wednesday Arrow McLaren Racing SP that 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Mexico and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida would be the team’s drivers in 2020.

“I think Ric (Peterson, one of the owners of the race team) and I would say that this is one of the toughest decisions we have had to make since we have been team owners, because I personally have known James, Jeremy, Arlene, his brother Chris for 11 years and love him,” Schmidt responded to a question posed to him by NBC Sports.com. “And I really appreciate what he’s done for the team, tremendous, tremendous investor in the sport and our brand and everything else.

“I’s a gut wrenching decision, but we were faced with an opportunity to pick up these two young guns coming out of Indy Lights that already have 13-, 14-, 15-years’ worth of experience and it was just an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.

“Everything’s amicable, I have all the faith in the world that James is going to wind up in a full-time ride and Ric and I are fully supportive of that. It’s just a competitive environment and for our partners and everything else that we’re — everybody, it was a group decision, we got an opportunity in front of us, we got to take it, we want to go win races.”

In theory, Hinchcliffe could sit back for a year and collect his paycheck from the team, but Schmidt doesn’t believe that will happen.

“What’s to stop him is the race driver within him,” Schmidt said. “I think as Gil de Ferran (McLaren Sporting Director), myself, anybody else on the line that’s a driver, you want to drive, you want to prove, you want to win the Indy 500, you still got boxes to check.

“I have no doubt that he and his team are burning up the phone lines and talking with everybody out there, in any series but primarily Indy Car. He’s still young, he still wants to win races, so I think that’s what’s to stop him from doing it.

“Certainly, it’s his option, but I don’t think you’ll see him do that.”

NBC Sports.com reported on Tuesday that NTT IndyCar Series team owners Bobby Rahal and Dale Coyne are both interested in talking to Hinchcliffe about the possibility of expanding their current and respective teams. However, both team owners said at this late stage of the offseason, it will be very difficult to get everything in place with sponsorship, team personnel and equipment to expand from their current two-car teams.

 

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit with new training regimen during layoff

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During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.

The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.

In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.

Times have changed, though.

Indiana is under a statewide lockdown with the exception of essential services only. Instead of going to PitFit, Dixon is working out at his home on the north side of Indianapolis.

RELATED: How is Sabres’ star Jack Eichel staying fit?

His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.

“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.

“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.

“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”


Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.

“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.

“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”

It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.

Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.

“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.

“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”

Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.

Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.

“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.

“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”

RELATED: Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph adjusting to ‘new normal’ for training

Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.

This is a time to keep his family safe.

“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.

“It’s a new thing for everybody.”


For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.

These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.

There won’t be time off inbetween races.

“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.

“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.

“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.

“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”

Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.

The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.

“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.

“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”

That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.

“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.

“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500