Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yep, Hinchcliffe Could Still Take ROY

The online reception to James Hinchcliffe's announced deal with Newman-Haas yesterday was greeted almost (almost!) uniformly with emotions ranging from happiness to elation. I know I don't just speak for myself when I say this is a guy plenty of us felt needed to be in the field, both from a promotion and a competition standpoint. He impressed in Indy Lights, he impressed anyone who saw him in the Barber open test, and when he missed out on the opener at St. Pete, it just didn't feel right.

Well, now Hinch is here, teammates with Oriol Servia on a Newman/Haas team looking to regain their rightful, honored place among the top teams of American open wheel racing. He's starting late, and won't be at overseas races in Japan and Sao Paulo, but could he still win Rookie of the Year by finishing with the most points?

In a word, yes. It won't be easy; 3 races represents probably at least 30-36 points he'll have to make up elsewhere. But if he has enough positive results and finishes in the top half of the field, it could happen.

Hinch finally gets his chance.
Let's look at last year's ROY fight. Alex Lloyd beat Simona de Silvestro in points 266-242, with both contestants competing in all 17 races (Lloyd, of course, received a monstrous 32 points for 4th-place at Indy). Takuma Sato also participated in each race, but with his horrid results, ended up with 214 points. Bertrand Baguette, the closest analogue to Hinch's situation we have, missed two races and still finished only a single point behind Sato and 53 behind Lloyd. Baguette was part of Conquest Racing, which struggled mightily at times despite Bert's maturing talent over the course of the season. Hinchcliffe has the bonus of a team which he's tested with repeatedly, and that has a proud, enduring legacy in the sport.

In addition, right now, only Ana Beatriz can claim as talented a full-time teammate (Justin Wilson) as Hinch has in Servia. The two seem to work well together, and if that continues, that's a huge point in Hinch's favor. James Jakes has Sebastien Bourdais on the twisties, but currently no one on the ovals. JR Hildebrand and Sebastian Saavedra are currently going at it alone. Charlie Kimball has Graham Rahal, sort of, but it's a new Ganassi team and is still shaking out.

So, what does Hinch need to do? My feeling is the ROY awards isn't necessarily going to go to the rookie who gives us the biggest "WOW" factor of the season; it's going to be to the driver who can keep it in one piece for the most races. Avoid those 12 and 10-point weeks. Nab a couple of extra spots by taking advantage of Newman/Haas' speed at Indy and qualify well there.

Alex Lloyd won Rookie of the Year with only 3 Top 10 finishes and 7 results of 20th or lower. If James Hinchcliffe can show the speed he showed in testing this year, he can still be the IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year. He's got the team, he's got time in the ride, he's got a veteran teammate, and he's got the confidence of plenty of people around the series. And while JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, and the other rookies won't make it easy, I think Hinch could pull it off. You finally have your chance, Hinch--go make the most of it.

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