AUSTIN, TX – It’s no secret, James Hinchcliffe may be among the most popular drivers in the series today. But, for some reason, it seems like no one wants to play with him. While that may be a joke, as I really was just kidding, Hinchcliffe is set to enter the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series with his seventh different teammate in team car in the last five years.
With so much change, Hinchcliffe is well on his way to keeping Rosetta Stone in business.
In fact, among the seven different teammates he’s had since 2015, five of them hail from different countries.
In 2015, he had James Jakes (England) as a teammate. In 2016, he had Mikhail Aleshin (Russia). In 2017, it was Aleshin again but Jack Harvey (England) and Sebastian Saavedra (Colombia) replaced Aleshin in the final few races. Last year was his good friend Robert Wickens (Canada). Unfortunately, Wickens was seriously injured at Pocono and Carlos Munoz (Colombia) stepped in over the final two races as his replacement.
This year, he has rookie Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) in the second car.
That’s a lot of change and not a lot of time to gel with the second teammate. Before we go too much further, we have to mention that if the wreck at Pocono doesn’t happen, then Wickens is back and this is a moot point. While Wickens has a car available for him if and when he can return, Ericsson is the new guy in the shop.
It’s always a challenge to overcome this. Ericsson, brings in no IndyCar experience. He’s leaning on Hinchcliffe for setup help.
Wickens last year had no experience other than a practice day at Road America in 2017. Aleshin in 2015 and 2016 had the best help but he didn’t pan out.
Now it’s back to square one, again.
The other thing is, that it’s hard to find a teammate that could be as successful as Hinchcliffe. He’s raised the bar at SPM. Since he joined the organization in 2015, the Toronto native has won a race in three of his four years there. Prior to that, Simon Pagenaud won for them in 2013 and again in 2014 but the organization had zero prior victories before Pagenaud.
Hinchcliffe owns three of teams’ seven career series win. He had eight top fives over the last two years alone. Wickens, elevated Hinchcliffe’s game last year to new levels. That’s what good teammates do to one another. They challenge each other as well as help find the right amount of speed in each other too.
With so much change, it’s hard to adapt each year when your teammate is new and inexperienced.
So far, it hasn’t hurt Hinchcliffe unless they can find continuity and he raise his game even further again.
I mean look at last year as a prime example. He had five top 10 finishes in the first five races of the season and nine in the first 12. If he doesn’t miss the Indy 500, he’s likely contending for the title as the calendar turned to August.
With limited off season testing, Hinchcliffe is going to have to find the speed on his own until Ericsson can get used to this new form of racing. That could bring Hinchcliffe down a bit.
That’s why having a new teammate is a big storyline for him and this team. How quickly can they adapt? So far, they’ve shown to be able to do so fairly quick. Can they do it again?