As Steve McQueen opined in the film LeMans, racing ‘is a professional blood sport’. But for professional drivers, challenges don’t just come in the form of death or injury, they can also ‘bleed out’ due to lost contracts. That’s what just happened to Sebastian Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe, since both of them should be getting ready for the 2020 Indycar season, but instead, are hunting for rides that should have already been sewed up.
In the case of Bourdais, he had a year to go on his contract, and managed an 11th in last year’s Championship, while coming close to a win at Alabama. His entire season was no mean feat considering that Dale Coyne w. Vasser-Sullivan have never been known to be well-heeled while running at the top of the open-wheel ladder.
However, Coyne is also known to run his racing business as a ‘business-business’, or in other words, he never goes out of pocket – ever. Consequently, he must have calculated that the four-time Champion was going to be excess financial baggage, when compared with developing a new partnership with Spaniard Alan Palou, and his Japanese mentor Kazumichi Goh, who’s background has been centered on the successful sports car effort he built in the Japanese SuperGT Series.
Nevertheless, in 2020 rookie terms, Palou is going to be an ‘out of the box’ talent, and unlikely to do much more than show up this year. But no matter, since Coyne will be well-covered by his ‘other driver’ Santino Ferrucci (13th/351 pts), who will undoubtedly do even better than he did last year.
Then, there’s James Hichcliffe’s situation, and this deal has to be considered as the ‘lesser of two sacks’ in the pre-season. In this event, Hinchcliffe’s contract also had another year to run with Schmidt-Arrow Motorsports, but that team disappeared in the off-season, by morphing into a new racing enterprise entitled Arrow-McLaren SP running Chevrolet power for 2020. So, given Hinch’s deep relationship with Honda, he could say that he was either just the victim of an ‘odd man out’ merger play, or it could have been something more than that, but no one is talking.
All we know for sure, it is that in the end of the day, James is now looking for work in 2020, while Mexican Patricio O’Ward will be in the A-M/SP seat when the Championship spools up at St. Pete in a short three months down the road.
As McQueen concluded, ‘Racing is Life; everything else is just waiting’, but there’s business too, and that’s a whole other kind of race, where sometimes, the slower you go, the better off you are; so we’ll just have to see what happens between now and the first Indycar session rolls out of the pits in Florida.