INDIANAPOLIS — James Hinchcliffe is back in his rightful place – a full time NTT IndyCar Series seat. Nothing against his gig on pit lane with NBC Sports for some races last year or even his desk chair for his popular Podcast with Alexander Rossi, but Hinchcliffe belongs on a race track competing for championships on a full time basis.
After a part time deal in 2020, the Canadian racer is going to be back behind the wheel of a Dallara for all 17 INDYCAR races in 2021. On Tuesday, Andretti Autosport unveiled that Hinchcliffe would drive the No. 29 Honda for every race during this upcoming season.
“We felt very confident,” team owner Michael Andretti said of getting this deal done. “I think we felt Genesys was very excited about it. We started talking about extending their program. Then obviously we had to talk to some others to try to be able to fill in the rest of the way, which we’re just about there. Hopefully we’ll have something to announce there soon.
“Yeah, but we always felt confident that we were going to be able to get it together. I got to say it’s always nice when you fulfill a goal, and we reached it. So now we’re on to the next goal, which is win the championship.”
It’s a reunion to say the least as Hinchcliffe drove full time for AA between 2012 and 2014. Half of his six career Indy Car victories came during that span including all in fact coming during a career year in 2013.
He then departed for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the 2015 season and was nearly killed in an Indy 500 practice crash that season. He came back in 2016 to win the pole for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in emotional fashion. Then, despite three wins in five years to go along with that Indy pole, he was unexpectedly let go in an unfortunate way late in the 2019 season. SPM was merging with McLaren for 2020 and despite having one year left of his contract, Arrow McLaren SP let the popular driver go.
See, where the problem sat was that Hinchcliffe and SPM said everything right following the McLaren announcement. They were going to honor the final year of the contract and let the chips fall where they may during 2020. While they were swapping Honda engines for Chevrolet, Hinchcliffe remained loyal even though he had personal deals tied back to Honda of Canada.
Then, they let him go after the fact. It was way late in the game and didn’t give him much time to find a full time gig again for the next season. So, they turned their focus to at the very least find an Indy only ride.
Hinchcliffe, 34, is as popular in this sport as they come. He’s wildly liked. He’s charismatic. He has a personality for days. He’s as popular on the track and in the paddock as he is in the stands and the media center. He’s a marketers dream and a damn fine driver in a race car. It’s a win-win.
INDYCAR couldn’t afford to let him get too far away. So an Indy 500 ride would at least suffice to keep him close and allow the driver to focus on 2021 instead. Andretti stressed a lot in 2020 anyways that they were working on a full time program for Hinchcliffe for the following season.
To get there though, you have to actually rewind to around this time last year.
When it was looking tough to even get to this point, a wild journey led him to where we sit today. Genesys approached Hinchcliffe via his DM’s. It led to a miraculous three race deal that included the Indianapolis 500. He’d race the GP on the road course, the Indy 500 and the June race at Texas. The goal during this process though was always to make it more with all eyes on a full time return to AA in ’21.
It came so fast too. It didn’t take much time at all from the DM to get pen to paper on a contract in place with Andretti Autosport for him to return on a part time role which was announced 11 months ago.
Then, a pandemic happened shortly thereafter. Genesys still had their orange and white colors on Hinchcliffe’s car for three races and now a title sponsor at Texas. but all would occur during COVID now. How was this going to work for a new sponsor to come to the series with so much uncertainty?
None of the races with Genesys had fans at them. How would this grow to full time a year later without any fan engagement from 2020?
Well, luckily it did. It tells you a lot about how great Hinchcliffe is on and off the track and how hard his team worked to get this done again.
Genesys will go from three races to 10 on Hinchcliffe’s car in 2021 and it was enough to make this a full time venture in the process.
“We’re so excited to continue our partnership with James and Andretti Autosport,” said Joyce Kim, chief marketing officer for Genesys. “I mean, as you guys know, last year, sort of our first time into the racing arena, and I think the only thing that would have made it better than it was if we could be there in person instead of virtually cheering the team on.
“We’re really proud to continue this and deepen our roots in the Indy community, which for those who don’t know is the largest footprint of our employee base around the world. Given Indianapolis and racing are sort of synonymous, we’re really happy to continue this partnership again.
“I think a lot of people have asked me why are you guys doing Indy 500. It sort of ties back to our business. We are in awe of sort of the amount of data and real-time things that are required, the split-second decisions that the drivers and the pit crews and everyone has to make. I kind of liken it to what we do for our customers at Genesys with customer experience, the data, the artificial intelligence, predictive capabilities.
“It’s all about the team, empowering with technology and data. We’re really just honored to be a part of this. I can’t wait to watch James and Andretti Autosport flying around the track in our Genesys orange No. 29 Honda. Hopefully this year we’ll be able to be in person.”
The company boasts a major employee presence in Indianapolis with more than 50 offices worldwide. Genesys technology helps organizations around the globe connect more than 70 billion customer moments each year across voice, text, messaging apps, web chat and social media.
“We’re building upon our tremendous partnership with James Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport. The success we have seen together goes beyond the deep connection Genesys has with the Indianapolis community,” said Tony Bates, CEO of Genesys. “James and the entire Andretti team are leaders on the track because they’re empowered with the right technology and data so they can make informed decisions at the right moment. That’s at the heart of every winning customer experience too, and what’s driving our momentum at Genesys.”
Think about that. In a pandemic. On a three race deal. To do so without fans or even sponsors allowed at race tracks and Hinchcliffe and his team were able to turn this deal and more than triple their involvement. Just look at how they value him. That’s a testament. That tells you his value and worth to a company.
“I mean, it’s a dream come true in so many ways,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people certainly. I love telling the story, we talked a lot about this last year when we did our three-race deal. It was two months from an Instagram message to signing a deal with Genesys. For a company to move that quickly in this kind of program was unbelievable. They took it a step further by sponsoring the race in Texas. You talked about all the activation on the 500. Now to jump up with a 10-race deal, it’s incredible.
“It just shows the commitment they’re willing to give, the faith they have in us and this program. We’re so proud to be partnered with them.
“To be back full-time, as Michael said earlier, it’s kind of like a homecoming. This team has been like family to me since I joined the first time back in 2012. We always said we’d get the band back together.
“We did like a little reunion tour last year, but now we’re fully back together. For me with Genesys onboard, being with Andretti Autosport, it’s just incredible.”
He showed Genesys that he had one of the fastest cars all month last year at Indy and finished in seventh place. He made the Fast Six and had a car capable of winning in the season finale at St. Pete when he was filling in for Zach Veach. He also kept the No. 26 Honda in the leaders circle money over the final three races of 2020 and showed Andretti he’s the guy that they need to keep full time.
He took a step back and proved his worth in 2020 and that led to a full time return in 2021. I expect big things out of this group now for 2021.
“I think if you look back at the way Andretti Autosport improved over the 2020 season, it’s no secret that it was a little bit of a struggle the first part of the year, but the last half of that season the team really came on strong and the cars were really competitive,” Hinchcliffe continued. “I think that gave us a lot of positive momentum going into the off-season.
“There’s nothing stopping us from saying we should be running up front right from the drop of the green flag at Barber. Podium, race wins, I’d love to see all the cars up there running with a shot at the championship with three or four rounds to go.”
The 2021 season will be Hinchcliffe’s 11th year competing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and his fifth in the Andretti Autosport stable. Accepting every challenge, he was one of the four Andretti Autosport entries to land in the Firestone Fast 9 during qualifying for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500, with no pre-season testing due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Hinchcliffe and his No. 29 become the fourth full-season entry in the Andretti Autosport 2021 fleet, joining already announced drivers Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda), Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS / AutoNation Honda) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda). Additionally, veteran racer Marco Andretti has been announced to join the lineup Memorial Day weekend for the Indy 500. Remaining partnerships for the Canadian driver’s 2021 season will be announced in the coming weeks.