Perennial Indy Lights premier operation Sam Schmidt Motorsports has added one of Canada's rising stars to its 2009 lineup. James Hinchcliffe, the Toronto native who has spent his last three years in the Atlantic Championship, joins Schmidt for the upcoming season.
Hinchcliffe is the third confirmed driver at the team that has won three prior Indy Lights championships and 23 races, joining Ana Beatriz for her second season and Gustavo Yacaman in his debut year. He beat out several drivers who have tested for Schmidt's team over the off-season.
Two of the three have nicknames, as "Hinch" joins "Bia", with Yacaman earning his own if he can emulate the performance of his older teammates.
"I don't think the word 'excited' does justice to how I feel about joining Sam Schmidt Motorsports for 2009," Hinchcliffe said. "I really am honored to have such a successful team put their confidence in me. We have such a good group of people and I'm really looking forward to teaming up with Bia (Ana Beatriz) and Gustavo (Yacaman). I have never been looking forward to any racing season as much as I am this year."
Hinchcliffe has spent the off-season commentating North American coverage of A1GP, where he has also competed for his native A1 Team Canada in the past. He also has lent his voice to Champ Car broadcasts on the European feed with Jeremy Shaw, carving a niche as a television personality who could offer a current drivers' perspective.
The change to Indy Lights marks a shift of identity for Hinchcliffe who has long preferred racing exclusively on road and street courses, but nonetheless the jovial 22-year-old is satisfied with joining Schmidt's team and adapting to ovals.
"Ovals are obviously a new thing for me, but I have enjoyed them more than I thought I would," he said. "It is a completely different skill set, and I know I have a ton to learn, but with the experience of guys like (team owner) Sam Schmidt, (engineer) Tim Neff, and (team manager) Chris Griffis behind me, I know that my oval education is in great hands."
Hinchcliffe finished eighth overall in testing at the Homestead-Miami Speedway two weeks ago, a best lap of 186.347 mph just a shade shy of Beatriz who ran seventh at 186.418. Panther Racing rookie Pippa Mann led the test at 187.726.