Andretti Autosport owner and his newest IndyCar driver discuss the challenges ahead for the team and IndyCar in 2012.
Q: Michael, could you talk about what James Hinchcliffe brings to your team?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We're really excited to have James join. We feel like he's going to fit right in. I think he's going to be good with the chemistry of Marco [Andretti] and Ryan [Hunter-Reay]. He did an awesome job last year. He proved that he can run up front. He's a great personality. I think he's going to be perfect for our team.
When you have a multi-driver team, it's very important that everybody gets along. We feel that the three of them are going to get along really well.
You can tell he's a team player. And the other guys, asking opinions of Marco and Ryan, they both had high marks for him. That made it a no-brainer.
Q: James, it has to be a bit of a relief to you to get things settled for 2012 after a great rookie season and a difficult end of 2011 for you?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was a difficult end of 2011 for everybody. On top of that, with Newman/Haas closing their doors the end of December, a little bit of a curve ball.
For me, I guess when a door closes a window opens, and this incredible opportunity has come up with Andretti Autosport and Go Daddy. Everybody is looking forward to getting going.
Q: You have said that you have some big heels to fill. How much pressure do you feel taking that mantle from Danica Patrick?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: A lot of the people and headlines have said, “Hinchcliffe replacing Danica in the Go Daddy car.” I'm replacing her in the seat in driving it. I don't think in any way we're going to say that I'm trying to replace Danica. What she did and what Go Daddy did with her was so unique and special, they did a good job with it. I'm kind of lucky that I'm coming in a bit of a different position being a guy rather than a woman in a male-dominated sport. Now they have a whole other set of opportunities.
I think there's some cool possibilities for them to work with someone else other than Danica with them. She's obviously still part of their family with her stock car program.
Q: Could both of you could talk about how important it was to get somebody with a personality in the Go Daddy seat, because that is a sponsor that can potentially do a lot of good for both the driver, the team and the series.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: For sure. I mean, obviously Go Daddy had a lot of say, as well, in who they wanted to represent their product. They were very high on James right away when we brought up his name.
As you said, that personality is going to be important, as well, for that because they are a little edgy and fun. I think James can be that way.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think from my perspective, similar comments to Michael there, I'm excited to get a chance to work with a company that likes to be a little bit edgy, pushes the boundaries. I've never been an inside-the-box kind of guy. Anybody who goes to Hinchtown.com can see that. That's why we created that in the first place, to get my personality out there a little bit, to be a little different and stand out.
Ultimately, with Go Daddy it's a bit of a match made in heaven. I think we have a lot of the same principles and ideas on that, so it could be cool.
I think it's an endorsement for the Road to Indy, as well. I came through a bunch of categories there, through Indy Lights. I've made it to this opportunity here, [so] it proves the value in that ladder system. I think it shows that young drivers really need to get into that program as quickly as possible if IndyCar is their goal.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Agreed.
Q: James, you went through your rookie year last year in the old car, and did very well. Now you're going into a new team with a new car. Almost like you're in a rookie situation again. Are you going to be playing catch-up with your teammates who have a lot more experience?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It's almost like I get a second crack at being a rookie. I'm certainly grateful I had a year in the old car. The car was sorted. The team has a good handle on it. There was a little less guesswork. It was sort of a more comfortable environment for me to learn the series, the other drivers, the style of racing, the speed and all that. Now we go into a situation where all the engineers and mechanics and drivers are figuring out this new car for the first time. We don't have a decade's worth of data to fall back on.
For sure I think my experience last year just at this level of competition puts me, you know, a step ahead of where a rookie coming in this year would be. But, there's no doubt that guys with more experience are going to be a little bit ahead of me, and that's why I'm very happy to have two experienced teammates, because I'll be able to bounce a lot of things off them and we'll all be able to help each other and be able to advance this process.
I think with a new car that nobody has any information about, three guys working together pushing the development in one direction, I think we can get on top of this thing pretty quickly and that can be a big advantage for us.
Q: Michael, could you comment on what you saw in James last year, how you think he'll adapt to the new car and working with his new teammates?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think a racecar is a racecar. He'll adapt real fast. I'm not worried about that.
What caught my eye with him last year was his teammate. He had a very good teammate. Oriol [Servia] is a very good guy, very fast. Many times he outraced him and out-qualified him. That says something. That was a good benchmark for us to look at.
I think him having some experience of what a car should feel like on an oval, in Indianapolis, places like that, I think it's really great that he got that, because it would have been a little more difficult to take a gamble on him this year had he not had that experience and showed up against his teammates. So it was definitely very important that he had last year.
Q: Michael, why the move away from the No. 7?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's because we have 26 and 28. We've had number 27 anyway. So we're just going to keep it in the family – 26, 27, 28. There's no other story other than that.
The 7 really didn't have any real significance to our team in any way. If you're going to be team cars, might as well go in succession. So that's why.