CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The new Arrow McLaren SP team officially named Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew as its drivers for 2020 on Wednesday and confirmed the Indy Lights champions will replace popular IndyCar veteran James Hinchcliffe.
Hinchcliffe began driving for Sam Schmidt in 2015, the year he nearly bled to death when a part on his car broken in a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway pierced his leg. He is under contract to the team but being replaced by 2018 Lights champion O’Ward. Askew sealed a deal to replace Marcus Ericsson in the second seat after wrapping up this year’s Lights title.
“James Hinchcliffe has concluded his IndyCar racing duties with the team,” the team said. “While James will cease racing for the team in 2020, he remains under contract with Arrow McLaren SP but is free to seek and secure alternative options.”
Hinchcliffe was already in a bind because of his ties to Honda and personal services agreement as a North American spokesman. But Honda won’t work with McLaren because of a bitter breakup in Formula One, so the existing Schmidt team will move to Chevrolet in 2020. The move was going to cost Hinchcliffe significant money, but he was committed to staying with the team and had repeated public assurances from co-owner Schmidt and McLaren CEO Zak Brown that Hinchcliffe would be back.
As a driver under contract with no reason to believe he’d be released, Hinchcliffe was not part of the active free agent market and now finds himself scrambling for a job with very few seats available.
His fate changed when O’Ward gained a release from Red Bull Racing that made the 21-year-old available to join Askew to form the youngest team in the IndyCar paddock. Hinchcliffe learned he was out Sunday night.
McLaren had planned to be a full-time two-car IndyCar team in 2020 but scaled back its plans when it failed to qualify Fernando Alonso for the Indy 500. It has instead partnered with Schmidt and is overhauling the organization with aa clear emphasis on youth. McLaren is doing the same with its F1 lineup.
“I’ve followed Oliver and Pato closely over the last few years,” said team co-owner Sam Schmidt. “I couldn’t think of a better pairing as we write the first chapter in Arrow McLaren SP’s story. They’ve proven their skills … with an Indy Lights championship each. They are ready and deserving of full-time seats in IndyCar. I have no doubt that Oliver and Pato are the right drivers to move Arrow McLaren SP forward.”
Schmidt is the winningest Indy Lights team in history with seven championships and has given seats to reigning Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, as well as Robert Wickens in 2018 when he moved from touring cars to Indy cars. Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono late in his rookie season and although he vows to race again, he’s currently in a wheelchair but attended almost every IndyCar race to assist the team. He and Hinchcliffe are very good friends who grew up racing together in Canada.
Askew, an American who turns 23 in December, won seven races while winning the title this season driving for Andretti Autosport. The Indy Lights title comes with a monetary bonus that pays for the champion to race in at least three IndyCar events, including the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s a dream come true to be joining Arrow McLaren SP for my first year in IndyCar,” said Askew. “The new team brings together three great partners and it’s an honor to be representing them in this new chapter for the team and for my career. This is an exciting new challenge for me and the next natural step after winning the Indy Lights title this year.”
O’Ward, a nine-time Lights winner his championship season, had planned to drive alongside Colton Herta last season at Harding Steinbrenner Racing but bailed right before the season opened because he was skeptical of the team funding. Although he landed a few races with Carlin, he failed to qualify for the Indy 500 and then left to join Red Bull’s program. The Mexican racer said he’s pleased to return to IndyCar.
“I’ve had some great opportunities over the last year, but this is by far the greatest thing that could possibly happen for my career,” O’Ward said. “I had a taste of IndyCar earlier this year and cannot wait to represent Arrow McLaren SP in the best way possible for a full season in 2020.”