INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens

Some well-known INDYCAR drivers currently on the outside looking in

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Bobby Rahal would love to sign James Hinchcliffe but finding the money to increase to a third car has been difficult. Fellow NTT IndyCar Series team owner Chip Ganassi said he would sign Hinchcliffe “in a heartbeat” if he could find sponsorship for a fourth car. Another team owner, Dale Coyne, is still interested in Hinchcliffe, but it’s going to take an addition $4 million to $5 million to do that.

Those are some big figures for Coyne, who runs perhaps the most efficient team in IndyCar by getting the most on track out of a modest budget.

Then there is popular driver Conor Daly, who also is out of a ride and doesn’t have many positive prospects at the moment. Just last week, another young driver, Spencer Pigot was told he would not be back to Ed Carpenter Racing in the No. 21 Chevrolet, replaced by former Indy Lights Series driver Rinus VeeKay.

Spencer Pigot

On Tuesday, Carpenter also silenced any discussion of Renault Formula One driver Niko Hulkenberg joining ECR in 2020. Hulkenberg was considered to be in line to share the No. 20 Chevrolet with Carpenter, who would continue to drive on the ovals while another driver competes in that car for the street and road course races.

Carpenter admitted that he hopes to have that driver signed before Thanksgiving, but told, “But no, it’s not going to be Hulkenberg.”

The biggest shocker out of this group remains Hinchcliffe, the popular driver from Oakville, Ontario who was stunned to find out that although he remains under contract with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, he will not be driving the car in any of the races. He remains on the payroll and has to make public relations appearances on behalf of the team that will feature rookie drivers 20-year-old Patricio O’Ward of Mexico and 22-year-old Oliver Askew from Jupiter, Florida.

O’Ward won the Indy Lights championship in 2018 and Askew won the title in 2019.

Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART champion as a driver, currently is partners in Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing along with David Letterman, former host of NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman” and South Suburban Chicago industrialist Michael Lanigan. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing currently has a two-car team featuring Rahal’s son, Graham, and popular driver from Tokyo, Takuma Sato.

Rahal is friends with Hinchcliffe. His son and Hinchcliffe were teammates at Newman Haas Lanigan Racing in 2011.

Bobby Rahal

The team owner admits the Canadian driver would be a perfect addition.

All it takes is money and sponsorship.

“James and I have talked, but it’s a tough place,” Rahal told NBC “We don’t have the sponsorship. We don’t have the personnel, so that makes it tough. We’re not saying the personnel can’t be found, but you have to have the money first and we don’t have that. We are going to run a third car at Indy, but I don’t know with who, yet.

“I’m sure James would prefer to get a full-time deal, which I don’t blame him at all.”

Rahal, however, believes there is time. Despite having a hip replacement on November 13, the team owner continues to talk to potential sponsors, but remains cautious.

“Who knows? It’s still four or five months before the first race so a lot can happen,” Rahal said. “But at this stage of the game, nothing has transpired yet to say we are ready to sign anybody, let alone him.

“Unfortunately for James, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time, frankly. I hear Chip Ganassi said he would hire him and I’m sure Dale Coyne said he would hire him and probably a lot more than that, really.

“But it all comes down to money.”

Hinchcliffe has a close relationship with Honda, serving as commercial spokesman for Honda Canada. The past two years, he has also been the face of American Honda and its “The Honda Dream Garage Spring Sale Event” commercials that aired in the United States.

When McLaren bought into Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in August, that team had to switch to Chevrolet because of Honda Japan’s edict that it will no longer do business with McLaren after a falling out over the Formula One engine in 2017.

Honda’s high-profile spokesman was suddenly on a Chevrolet team.

“He has been a Honda driver, but what that means at this stage of the game?” asked Rahal, who is a Honda team owner. “It’s certainly not enough to go racing by any stretch of the imagination.

“I feel for him because it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It’s not going to be impossible, but it’s tough for anybody to find the right amount of money for him.

“It’s a shame. A real shame. We are out there talking to people, but nobody has said we want to do this, here is $6 million. Everybody has made their plans for next year.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Charlie Kimball joins A.J. Foyt Racing; Tony Kanaan expected back

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A.J. Foyt has hired Charlie Kimball to drive its No. 4 Chevrolet in the 2020 NTT IndyCar season.

Kimball will return to a full-time schedule after seven races last season with Carlin Racing. This will mark his 10th consecutive season of driving in IndyCar. In 141 starts, he has one victory (in 2013 at Mid-Ohio).

“I would not have survived — and I’m not sure my marriage would have survived — another year on a partial schedule,” Kimball said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “Because it was really tough on me last year watching in races when I wasn’t in the car. The consistency allows me to stay in the rhythm.”

A.J. Foyt Racing fielded cars last year for Matheus Leist in the No. 4 and Tony Kanaan in the No. 14. Team president Larry Foyt told reporters that the No. 14 car’s 2020 schedule was “a work in progress and hopefully have some news on that in the next few weeks.”

Asked if Kanaan, who has driven for Foyt since 2018, still will be with the team, Foyt said, “I’m sure he will. We’ve been working together and getting everything buttoned up.”

Here’s the full release from A.J. Foyt Racing:

Veteran IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball joins AJ Foyt Racing as the full-time driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet with backing from his long-time sponsor Novo Nordisk. The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season marks Kimball’s 10th consecutive season in IndyCar and his 12th season of partnership with the global healthcare company.

Kimball, who ran a partial season of seven races in 2019, returns as a full-time driver in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series this year. The No. 4 car will carry a Novo Nordisk branded livery in the following races: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, GMR Grand Prix (Indianapolis), Texas Indy 600 (Ft. Worth), Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway (Madison, Ill.) and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Novo Nordisk will be an associate marketing partner in the remaining 11 races.

“I’m excited and honored to join AJ Foyt Racing and be a part of a team that has such deep roots in history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar,” said Kimball, who lives in Indianapolis. “Continuing the partnership with Novo Nordisk is also special since they have been an integral part of my career since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I’m more motivated than ever to work with the team to succeed at every IndyCar race in 2020. Thank you to AJ Foyt Racing, Novo Nordisk and our other partners for this opportunity.”

Team President Larry Foyt expects the partnership with Novo Nordisk and the addition of Charlie Kimball, an IndyCar Series race winner at Mid-Ohio (2013) and a pole winner at Texas Motor Speedway (2017), to invigorate his No. 4 Texas-based team this season.

“Charlie brings a great deal of experience and skill to the team,” Foyt said. “He is motivated to show what he can do behind the wheel, and his recent experience of helping develop cars will be beneficial as we work to get the 4 car moving up the grid. Novo Nordisk has been a long-time supporter of Charlie and IndyCar. We want to welcome them to AJ Foyt Racing and we look forward to joining them in their effort to increase the awareness of diabetes.”

Kimball has posted six podium (top-3) finishes, and an additional eight top-5s. He has finished in the top-10 (6th through 10th) 41 times and has led 163 laps in 141 races.

“We are proud to continue our long-term partnership with Charlie Kimball and look forward to an exciting 2020 IndyCar season with the legendary AJ Foyt Racing,” said Brian Hilberdink, Senior Vice President, Commercial Diabetes at Novo Nordisk. “For more than a decade, we’ve utilized our involvement in IndyCar to share Charlie’s inspiring journey living with diabetes through the Race with Insulin initiative. Charlie is one of the most active ambassadors in the diabetes community and his passion and commitment to making a difference in the lives of those who are living with diabetes is unwavering. We look forward to continuing this tradition with AJ Foyt Racing, Charlie and the diabetes community throughout the IndyCar season.”

Foyt expects to make further announcements regarding new primary sponsors for the team in the near future.