Fans of the distinctive neon green No. 27 car may have done a double take when GoDaddy announced on Jan. 10, 2012, that James Hinchcliffe would succeed Danica Patrick as driver, but Hinchcliffe said he hopes they have become familiar with his name and face.
"Certainly last year was a big transition for the fans more than anybody, getting used to somebody with short hair and a beard in the car," he quipped. "But GoDaddy's been so good to work with. They've been a lot of fun, they've been really supportive in that transition and trying to help us make it our own and make that differentiation between Danica and I. I think it's worked now. I think people see her in the stock car, and we're in the Indy car. It's working really well."
In just two years with GoDaddy, Hinchcliffe has three victories in the IndyCar Series and five other top 5 finishes. In five seasons with GoDaddy, Patrick had just one win and 15 top 5s.
Hinchcliffe, who will begin today's Grand Prix of Baltimore from the 11th spot, has had a strong 2013. The 2011 IndyCar Rookie of the Year opened the campaign by winning the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 24, repeating that feat at the Sao Paolo Indy 300 on May 5, and becoming the series' first three-race winner by capturing the Iowa Corn Indy 250 on June 23.
It has been a whirlwind journey for the 26-year-old native of Oakville, Ontario, but one he has certainly enjoyed.
"Coming into the year, we certainly had some goals, and the No. 1 goal was to get that first race win," he said with a smile. "We were very lucky to knock that out of the way in the first race, and I think that took a lot of the pressure off in a sense. It was more of a relief."
Hinchcliffe's performances have helped him step out from the long shadow of Patrick, whose marketability has dwarfed her success on the race track.
When Patrick announced on Aug. 25, 2011, that she would be leaving the IndyCar Series for NASCAR, Andretti Autosport added Hinchcliffe to join Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay. That trio — along with E.J. Viso — has formed a solid relationship. That was evident Friday morning when all four drivers took the podium at the Baltimore Convention Center and bantered about whether the charismatic Hunter-Reay could be the face of IndyCar racing and whether Viso had signed an item that Hinchcliffe had acquired the previous day.
"We have a great group here," Hunter-Reay said. "The most important thing is the communication, what we have going, and that we're all pushing in the same direction. That's most important. So we need to make sure that is highest on our list over the offseason if there are any additions and hopefully, there are no subtractions."
Hinchcliffe's future with GoDaddy is still in doubt. The website is in its final year of its IndyCar contract with Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport, and in an interview in early August with Fox Sports, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving did not shed much light on his interest in staying involved in IndyCar.
Hinchcliffe politely declined to speculate on GoDaddy's intentions, but conceded that he thinks about his future "every day."
"It's that time of year when you have to line everything up and see where it all falls," he said. "But certainly, it's been a lot of fun working with GoDaddy, and I'd love to keep that relationship going and keep them in the sport as selflessly as possible. They're so good for IndyCar that even if it's not me, I still want them in the sport. But I've enjoyed working with them so much, and I'd love to keep that relationship going."
For now, Hinchcliffe's focus is on his driving, which he admitted needs to improve. Although he and Scott Dixon lead all drivers with three victories each, Hinchcliffe also has been saddled with five finishes outside of the top 20 and two more outside of the top 10.
"Yeah, the three wins have been phenomenal, but at the same time, it's been kind of an up-and-down season," said Hinchcliffe, currently ninth in the points race with 350, which trails leader Helio Castroneves by 129 points. "Our good days have been very good, but our bad days have been pretty bad, and we've had a bunch of races outside the top 20, which is not what you want if you want to be in the championship. In a lot of ways, the season has gone way better than I could have expected, and in some ways, we were a bit let down with the results, not the performance or the effort. We just had some bad luck and a couple small mistakes. On the whole though, it's been an incredible year."
There's no better time than the present for Hinchcliffe to trim the deficit against Castroneves with a strong outing today. But he noted he was 24th here in 2011 and 15th last year.
"I don't have an awesome track record here, but we're looking to change that this weekend," Hinchcliffe said. "It is a very challenging track and it's very bumpy in some sections and very smooth and really paved in others. The chicane's always an adventure each session, and sometimes it changes session to session, and this year, that's not going to be a problem. The team has had really good street course cars all season long. So hopefully, this can be the year when we can make things happen."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun