A notable, intentional omission from the Arrow McLaren SP announcement involves its two-car driver lineup. Having confirmed its upcoming switch from Honda to Chevrolet, a complete year-to-year cockpit change could be possible when the current Arrow SPM outfit returns next season.
Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, currently completing his fifth season with Arrow SPM, has one year remaining on his contract with the team. Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson, entering the final rounds of his rookie NTT IndyCar Series campaign, has expressed an interest in returning to Arrow SPM, but is not believed to hold a contract for 2020.
Interest is known to be held for Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta, and a variety of other drivers, including recent Arrow SPM test driver Felipe Nasr, could be in the frame to fill one or more Arrow McLaren SP Chevy seats.
With direct funding coming from Honda Canada, and a personal services contract that has the 32-year-old starring in national television commercials for the brand, Hinchcliffe could face a powerful dilemma if he wants to stay with Arrow McLaren SP when it parts ways with the Japanese manufacturer.
Among the various options for the six-time IndyCar race winner to consider, deciding on severing ties to Honda and staying with the team, or seeking an early termination to his contract and finding a Honda-powered home elsewhere in the paddock, would appear to be a pressing need.
“James Hinchcliffe is a great member of the team and has a contract through 2020, and we look forward to confirming drivers soon,” a McLaren representative told RACER. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown confirmed the team’s lineup will be chosen by the newly-formed leadership group contained within Arrow McLaren SP.
“As we now get into our review of what do we want to do together, drivers and long-term thinking, even beyond ‘20, is arguably one of the most – if not the most – important element of a successful IndyCar team,” he said. “And so, no decisions have been made yet. Experience is very important. And having a long runway.
“If you look at what we did in Formula 1, we have two young drivers, one rookie, one quite experienced, and that’s working really well with Lando [Norris] and Carlos [Sainz]. So, I’m not saying that’s exactly the same approach we’ll take, but I think it gives you a sense of the type of thinking that we think makes sense.
“And we’re going to do this very hand in hand with Sam [Schmidt]. Drivers is something he knows a lot about. Moving forward, our decisions are not McLaren decisions or SPM decisions, they’re group decisions. We’re now one team.”
Representatives for the newlywed Hinchcliffe are known to have taken meetings with a number of teams during the recent Mid-Ohio IndyCar event. Of the many Honda destinations to ponder, a departure by Herta from HSR could present an easy path for Hinchcliffe to resume his former relationship with Andretti Autosport, which supplies chassis technology and engineering support to the team owned by Mike Harding and George Steinbrenner IV. Hinchcliffe himself was unavailable for comment when this story went to press, but later issued a statement about his situation via Twitter:
Chip Ganassi Racing is not expected to have vacancies to fill, nor is it looking to add an extra entry. Dale Coyne Racing has Sebastien Bourdais under contract for 2020, but the status of his rookie teammate Santino Ferrucci is unconfirmed, which could make a solid entry available. Bourdais’ race engineer Craig Hampson worked with Hinchcliffe on his IndyCar debut in 2011 at Newman/Haas Racing, and again at Andretti Autosport, creating familiarity for both sides at DCR.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has Graham Rahal signed to a long-term contract, 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato is expected to return for his third season as Rahal’s teammate, and team co-owner Bobby Rahal believes a new, third entry is close to happening, which would seemingly fit any needs Honda has to place Hinchcliffe in a quality program.
Altogether, and provided Arrow McLaren SP’s shift to Chevy power leads to Hinchcliffe changing teams, numerous options are available for the series’ most popular driver.
Ericsson is known to have embarked on discussions with teams in addition to Arrow SPM regarding 2020, and could also vie for some of the same seats Hinchcliffe might pursue.
This story was updated after publication to include James Hinchcliffe’s Tweet.