Well, the unthinkable has now become the reality. After days of speculating how James Hinchcliffe will find his way into the 2018 Indianapolis 500 after being bumped we have the answer: he won’t.
I’d normally say something like “Sadness” here, but that doesn’t even begin to cover the feeling. You humble host has been a fan of the affable Canadian since he was coming up the Road to Indy ladder, and not having him to cheer for is more like “Emptiness”. But using that word only makes me feel worse.
(“Right, because we’re all here to talk about your feelings.” – The Spotter)
At any rate, Hinch revealed the awful truth himself on Wednesday on his twitter account.
“Barring unforeseen circumstances, I will not be racing in the Indy 500 this year. The decision was made to stop pursuing options to get us in the race. There really aren’t words to describe how missing this race feels. At the end of the day, we simply didn’t get the job done. No excuses. This is our reality and we will face it head on, we will use it as motivation and we will come back stronger. We have a great team, incredible partners and the best fans, all who have been so supportive through this. I’m sorry we can’t be on track for you Sunday, but we will be pushing hard for the wins in Detroit.”
There has been much digital ink spilled in the last few days as scribes of all levels scramble to present solutions to solve this problem for Indycar.
· Put him in Jay Howard’s seat. Which is just silly if you know anything about Sam Schmidt and his extensive relationship with Howard. Sam isn’t going to burn him.
· Put him in Jack Harvey’s seat. Which is not that far off from saying they should put him in Zach Veach’s or Ed Jones’s seat, since Harvey effectively races for a different team that has a technical partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
· Put him in Conor Daly’s seat. Which is really far-fetched since the Hoosier has spent the last few months working hard to get his sponsorship in the hopes it could grow to into a larger sponsorship. Also there’s that whole potential “Canadian driving for the USAF team” issue.
In the end there just wasn’t a seat available at an affordable price, so we can only hope Hinch’s major sponsors like Arrow are at least tacitly compliant with this decision. If not, someone would have written a very large check, right? I mean, if it takes $2 million to save an annual $8+ million deal, that check would have been written.
Side note: Obviously the face of Honda (if not of Indycar itself) was not going to buy his way into a Chevy ride, but does anyone know if SPM considered buying a ride for Howard and then moving Hinch to the #7? It’s more complicated, but at least it would open the possibilities to include Chevy teams in the effort.
And then of course there are those who though Indycar should just allow all of the entries to race, which many have said they should have done all along. Let everyone who brings enough money to contract a Dallara enjoy an entry. I get this from a business perspective, but understand the racing product itself could end up suffering. For example, if the money was there, would you let the likes of Marty Roth and Milka Duno back on the track?
There has to be a cutoff to protect the quality of the product, and 33 has been the cutoff way more times than not. So the only best solution to remedy this situation I’ve heard is for Indycar to include a guaranteed entry for all races including Indianapolis for those teams included in the Winner’s Circle or whatever it’s called now. I don’t think it would be a huge affront to allow that to teams show up to every race for the previous season.
And no, it wouldn’t be like the 25/8 rule since that was designed to discourage entries from CART teams. That rule sucked more than the ending to “Seinfeld” because it excluded really good drivers from the Indy 500 because they raced for a competing series. This rule would be designed for the opposite reason – to keep really good drivers in the race.
But in all honesty, I’m kinda ambivalent about such a rule. Which brings me to my final point, as unpopular and obtuse as it may be: this isn’t really an Indy 500 problem; it’s a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports problem. I say that with the caveat that Honda isn’t too terribly upset that the guy in their ads isn’t actually an Indycar driver this weekend. If one of the manufacturers is angry then I totally recant my hot take.
Hinch and his team got dealt a rough hand being the first car to have to qualify after the first rain delay, where the weather and track conditions had changed significantly from when they rolled into the queue. That showed in their 224.something time that was 32nd best after the first round of attempts. Knowing that teammates Wickens and Howard were able to reach higher speeds, there is NO GOOD REASON they shouldn’t have had Hinch’s car ready to try another run well before 5:30pm. As stressful as it would have been to make multiple attempts at qualifying it would have been a whole lot less stressful than what he and his team have had to put up with this week.
But they didn’t. Instead they dithered pray the Bump Day monster would spare them with their meager time, and that didn’t happen either. Certainly the good folks at SPM have learned a valuable lessons, and by valuable I mean extremely expensive.
Now I have to find something to wear on Sunday other than my Hinchcliffe t-shirt. And no, I’m not going to talk about my feelings anymore.