Bobby Rahal

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 Motorsport.com, “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 Sports.com. “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