Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe has been on a rapid rise during his two-and-a-half year career as an IndyCar driver.
The 26-year-old Canadian spent five years training and toiling in Atlantics and Indy Lights, watching as many of his rivals made their way to Champ Car and IndyCar before he did, but he finally graduated in 2011, bringing his considerable talent to the championship-winning Newman/Haas Racing organization.
He'd go on to place 12th in the championship, earning Rookie of the Year honors along the way, and after being without a ride when NHR folded just prior to the 2012 season, Hinch was soon tabbed to fill the Go Daddy-supported seat intended for the late Dan Wheldon at Andretti Autosport.
And now, with his two-year contract at Andretti Autosport set to expire, the three-time IndyCar race winner finds himself in the enviable (and unfamiliar) position of negotiating from a place of strength for his next contract.
In addition to Andretti Autosport looking to keep him in the family for the next few years, Hinch has also drawn interest from the Ganassi team and a few others in search of a high-profile driver who is good with pleasing and attracting sponsors. IndyCar's most colorful driver spoke to RACER about the big decision he's facing, and how he's been propelled into a situation that he could only dream about a few years ago.
“It's funny how things change,” said Hinch. “My first year, my first deal with Newman/Haas, we brought (sponsor) Sprott to the table and it was a similar situation that a lot of rookies find themselves in. It was really me needing financial support to break into IndyCar and the team deciding to take a risk. Then we moved to Andretti Autosport. That was a need-need thing where they needed a driver and I needed a drive.
“We were at the right place at the right time for each other. At the same time, I was a driver with one year of experience and didn't have a lot to stand on. And now, this time around, it's obviously different, which I'm thankful for. We have some wins behind us, which is different than before, and that's the position every driver wants to be in when they're in a contract year.”
With his stock at an all-time high, drawing interest from other championship-caliber teams has been a welcome change.
“We've had a great year and have strong momentum, and for a guy needing to solidify his future, it's nice to have some options,” added Hinch, who's won a pair of street course races and on the short oval at Iowa this year. “It's a nice change from knocking on everyone else's door seeing if they'd even be willing to throw you in their car. That's what I've had to do throughout my career, so this is a welcome change of pace.”