By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the NTT Data IndyCar Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into the 2019 season opener at St. Petersburg.
Team: Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Years in IndyCar: Eight
Career Wins: Six
Career Podiums: 16
If James Hinchcliffe’s 2018 results were in a line graph, the resulting image would almost resemble a heart rate monitor with all of the highs and lows that the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver experienced last season.
Things got off to a great start, with five straight top-10 finishes in the first five races of the year, including a top-five in the season opener at St. Petersburg and a podium finish in the rain-delayed race at Barber Motorsports Park.
Then came Indianapolis and the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.
After posting a disappointing time in Bump Day qualifying, Hinchcliffe was left near the back of the pack, with other drivers posting quicker times to knock him further down the leaderboard, eventually finding himself on the outside looking in.
The team hit the track for another run, but had to abort due to a vibration from a tire pressure sensor failure. After getting the problem fixed, Hinchcliffe jumped back in line to try and make one more banzai run, but ultimately ran out of time to be able to make an attempt and would have to sit on the sidelines when the green flag fell the following week.
“Nobody failed us, the system didn’t fail us. We failed us,” a dejected Hinchcliffe said. “At the end of the day, everybody got a run, which is the rule. Our run wasn’t good enough, so blame the weather, blame other cars in line, you can blame whatever you want, but it just didn’t happen today. You’ve got to take your lumps here sometimes.”
The team was able to get themselves pointed in a positive direction a couple of weeks later when they rolled into Texas, picking up a fourth-place finish, which he followed up with a 10th at Road America, his first win of the season at Iowa, and a fourth-place in Toronto.
The good times wouldn’t last past the trip north of the border as he failed to finish higher than 14th in the final five races of the season, ending the season 10th in the final standings.
Though Hinchcliffe noted that Indianapolis was a “tough pill to swallow,” he added that moment was a turnaround for his team going forward for the rest of the season and heading into 2019.
“We went through our best stretch of the season right after that,” he said. “Texas, Road America, Iowa, we were on a really good roll. We knew it was circumstantial. It was a lot of things outside of our control. Definitely a lot of things that we have to take the blame for, but we know what we would and wouldn’t do differently going back. I’m not worried about going back. I know the pace is going to be there. We’re going to have a fast cars. We’re going to have good cars. We’re going to go out there and try to win the 500.”
For the 2019 season, Arrow Electronics returns as sponsor for HInchcliffe, but the company has also made a big investment into SPM as a whole, taking over naming rights of the team and sponsoring both Hinchcliffe and his new teammate Marcus Ericsson.
After the devastation of missing out on the Indianapolis 500, Hinchcliffe noted that the company’s decision to step up speaks volumes about them and their belief in the potential the team as a whole holds going forward.
“Obviously they believe a lot in us,” Hinchcliffe said. “We had our lowest day in Indy and not only did they continue to back us, they doubled down on us. We’re now Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports because it’s an incredible organization. They see the work we do day in and day out to do them proud to go out on track and compete for wins.
“What they’ve done now in stepping up to entitlement sponsor the whole team is just incredible. We haven’t really seen that properly in IndyCar for a bunch of years now. I think it speaks to the health of the sport and I think it speaks to the efforts of everybody at ASPM. I just can’t thank them enough. They’re an incredible organization and it truly is an honor to be associated with them.”
After joking about both cars in the stable carrying the Arrow logo and it being harder to tell which car is his, Hinchcliffe added that the commitment from the company should be nothing but helpful when it comes to advancing their performance in 2019.
“You’re never comfortable financially in a race team because you’ll find a way to spend whatever dollars you have. We just have a lot more dollars to spend now. It’s definitely freed up some opportunities for us on the development side, on the personnel side, and that can only be a good thing”
With the new investment from Arrow and the work the team has undergone in the offseason, there should be some definite improvements across the board in 2019 to bring the team right in line with the other big players in the IndyCar world.
Along with that, redemption is at the forefront of Hinchcliffe’s mind when it comes to the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 this May, given the rollercoaster ride he and his team have been on at the track in recent years.
“I just want to win,” Hinchcliffe said. “That’s the only thing that’s going to make it good. We’ve been through so much there. We’ve been through the best at least on qualifying day. We’ve been through the worst in pretty much every other way. There’s only one thing left to do at that track for me. That’s to win the thing.
“I don’t care if it’s the most dramatic week of my life for practice and a terribly stressful qualifying weekend if we come out on top on Sunday. That’s all that matters.”