James Hinchcliffe is the face of IndyCar racing. He’s on national Honda commercials. There are 400 Arrow customers coming to cheer him on in this year’s Indianapolis 500. IndyCar wants him in the race, Honda wants him in the race, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports wants him in the race and the majority of IndyCar fans want him in the race.
So Sam Schmidt writes a check to get his driver a ride and almost everybody is happy.
But, according to Dale Coyne, “it’s not as easy as it sounds.”
The day after Hinchcliffe got bumped from the 102nd Indianapolis 500, the big story was which car the Mayor could take over this Sunday.
So let’s look at the rumors/possibilities:
Take over teammate Jay Howard’s car. “Not for any amount of money,” said Howard, who did a splendid job of qualifying fastest among the three SPM cars.
Take over Jack Harvey’s car since Mike Shank is partnering with SPM. “The ride is not for sale,” said Shank, whose AutoNation/Sirius XM sponsors love the 25-year-old British driver.
Take over rookie Zachary Claman De Melo’s car. “Make that 3” tweeted De Melo in response to a report there were four viable options for Hinchcliffe. De Melo turned in a fine qualifying run in his oval-track debut as Pietro Fittipaldi’s replacement.
Take over Oriol Servia’s ride at Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan. “Nobody has called me but nothing is for sale on our team,” said Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner who got bumped in 1993 and didn’t try to buy his way into the race.
Take over Conor Daly’s ride with the caveat the second-generation driver can run other races in 2018 for SPM. “Conor got called and offered two or three races but there isn’t enough money,” said Coyne, who leases equipment to Thom Burns.
Because Howard, Servia and Daly are Indy-only deals with Honda power, they’re the likely candidates to take a buyout.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Coyne, whose fourth driver Pippa Mann was the other driver bumped on Saturday. “We’ve got contracts with the Air Force, Tom Burns, Conor and I don’t think there’s enough money to buy that ride.
“Nobody is going to write a check for $2 million.”
Daly, who went out for his qualifying run, said he believed he’d be in the No. 17 Honda on race day.
“As far as I know yes,” he said. “Unless somebody gives me millions of dollars, I don’t think there’s any way I won’t be in it.”
Asked if IndyCar had approached him, Coyne replied: “No but if IndyCar wants Hinch in they can just start 35 cars.”
Howard, sponsored by One Cure (an animal cancer research initiative out of Colorado) for the second straight May, spends all year working on his Indy deal. “I don’t think Sam (Schmidt) would make me get out of my car,” he said.
“It sucks for Hinch, I get that. But I worked hard to get this ride and as soon as the race is over, I’ll start working on next year.”