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AP

Bourdais, Hinchcliffe casualties of cruel IndyCar offseason

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Sebastien Bourdais spent a day in early November helping IndyCar iron out the wrinkles on its newest safety innovation. He’d been chosen to test the new windscreen cockpit protection because of his experience, his ability to offer technical feedback and his methodical approach in a race car.

Later that evening, the four-time series champion learned he was likely going to be fired from his job with Dale Coyne Racing. It took another two weeks for the details to be worked out between Coyne and Bourdais, who was dumped with a year remaining on his contract and too late in the free agency process to land another IndyCar ride.

Now Bourdais, tied for sixth on the all-time wins list with 37 career victories, finds himself sidelined along with James Hinchcliffe, another popular veteran who learned after the season ended that re-branded Arrow McLaren SP was replacing him despite a year left on his contract.

Both drivers are longtime fixtures in open-wheel racing and opened 2020 with zero IndyCar prospects.

“James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais are big names in the series. They are not someone to just whisk off and forget about. It’s serious,” former Indianapolis 500 winner and series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay told The Associated Press.

The abrupt sacking of Bourdais and Hinchcliffe has made for an offseason of distasteful business decisions that has contributed to a rapidly changing landscape in a series trying to make a comeback. Hinchcliffe was replaced at McLaren by 20-year-old Patricio O’Ward; Bourdais got the boot because he failed to score a manufacturer point for Honda last season, so Honda cut Coyne’s engine funding and Coyne opted for Alex Palou, a Spaniard who brought financial backing to the program.

“It’s very European motorsports, which I hate,” said former Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi. “I am all too familiar with it, the not honoring of contracts. But that’s motorsports.”

Both drivers have been mum on moves

This has been a particularly cruel offseason for some of IndyCar’s biggest names, who are scrambling for seats that just don’t exist. Tony Kanaan wants a 23rd and final season, but A.J. Foyt doesn’t appear to have the money to run him on anything but ovals.

Being fired is bad enough, but the timing has made it a double punch for the drivers.

“I think drivers to a certain extent, we understand we are expendable. There’s a lot of us lined up and if you are not getting the results or getting your job done, there is a line out the door of guys who will come in and try to replace you,” said Hunter-Reay. “But that’s not the issue. I think it’s when it comes down to it, there needs to be some type of business sense with integrity involved and you actually notify someone ahead of time and give them a chance to go out and find another ride.

“When it really burns us is when it happens so late like that, the music has already stopped, there’s no more chairs and you are left standing there.”

Bourdais had already been in talks with JDC Miller in sports cars to run the three IMSA endurance races, and when he lost his job with Coyne, he called team leader Christian Fittipaldi and turned that opportunity into a full-time job with the team.

“I picked up the phone and said ‘Hey dude, not looking for three races anymore,’ ” Bourdais told AP.

So the Frenchman is at Daytona International Speedway this weekend testing for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, his first race in his new job. Hinchcliffe has yet to announce anything at all, and there’s speculation he may end up doing television work for NBC Sports as he waits for a seat to open.

Both Bourdais and Hinchcliffe have said little about their firings, with Bourdais on Saturday citing confidentially clauses in his split with Coyne for how little he could reveal.

Scott Dixon surprised by moves

Bitter at how the situation played out, he insisted he’s not looking back and focused only on trying to fill his calendar with more races in 2020. He’s got a shot at landing a ride for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where’s he a previous class winner, and wants to get back into IndyCar.

But he’s a salaried driver who does not bring sponsorship and isn’t interested in finding funding to join a smaller team just for the sake of getting back into the series. Bourdais only wishes his parting had come earlier when he might have been able to land an open seat.

“I think every contract is different so you can’t generalize things and I can’t say that Dale didn’t have an out,” Bourdais told AP. “It’s just the timing of things that was really complicated for me, it’s just the harshness of the business and financials got in the way. We’re not in a teddy bear kind of world … people do things for a reason and some are on the receiving end of bad things and you try to take the feelings out of it.

“It’s not the way you want to go, you’d like to go on your own terms and sometimes racing decides that for you.”

The late seat changes took five-time series champion Scott Dixon by surprise, as he anticipated a quiet offseason with a far more frenzied free agency to begin this summer ahead of several expiring driver contracts. Dixon thought McLaren completely botched its handling of Hinchcliffe, then the abrupt Bourdais firing only added to the chaos.

“The guys you thought were (in good shape) turned out not to be and the timing definitely sucks,” Dixon said. “Bourdais really seemed like he was blown out of the water. It’s definitely an interesting time for what we thought was going to be a quiet offseason and now it’s pretty messed up.”

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 wouldn’t have survived another partial schedule, and I’m not sure my marriage would have survived,” Kimball said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “It was really tough 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.