Motorsport and the NFL share a handful of similarities which keep their dedicated fanbases hooked. The danger, high speed action, superhuman precision and preparation, larger than life spectacle, and the constant reminder of mortality, however, thats where the similarities stop. Where they differ, other than the obvious, is the NFL’s monstrous & fruitful empire and racings desperate need for funding.
When you breakdown Arrow McLaren SP Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing’s decisions to move on from their tenured drivers James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot, sponsorship dollars were a huge catalyst in the boardroom. Both paid drivers, neither needed to bring sponsorship to the table in 2019, however, with the change of company when McLaren joined forces with SPM after the season concluded, they decided to go younger, and with two drivers who had money to bring to the table. Pat O’Ward showed promise in his rookie campaign and even had a spot on Red Bull’s developmental team, and Oliver Askew had some money that he brought over from winning Indy Lights. Hinchcliffe was also one of the frontmen of Honda, who ran their engine previously to McLaren joining the team, however once McLaren signed on, Honda dumped the team and they were forced to go with Chevrolet. The Mayor of Hinchtown said before he got the axe that he would drive a Chevy engine despite his relationship with Honda, however, AMSP made his decision easier but cutting him altogether.
While McLaren may look like a bottomless pit when it comes to money, it does make sense that in their first full season in the series that they would want all the help they can get with a lot of their funds tied into their Formula 1 team, which also played a roll into the change of drivers, however, much like Pigot, Hinchcliffe was sure he’d still be around in 2020 after McLaren CEO Zack Brown said that Hinchcliffe would be in the 5 car for the upcoming campaign.
“I am well aware of the lack of popularity of the decision, I totally get it,” Brown said at Circuit of the Americas, site of this weekend’s Formula One race. “We commented he was going to be in the car in 2020 and at the time, that was true. In business and racing, as you all know, things change. When Pato O’Ward came on the market … we decided to take a long-range view on what was best for the team and to go with Pato and Oliver.” via ESPN.
In the case of Spencer Pigot, the same promise was broken. At the last race of the season in Laguna Seca, team owner/driver Ed Carpenter told Pigot that he would be their full time driver in 2020. However, after the season had ended, other members of the ownership group thought it’d be best to look for a driver who would bring money to the table. Pigot made a career of finding funding and winning scholarships through the Mazda Road to Indy, and rightfully so believed that he no longer needed to seek out funding and that he belonged in the sport as a paid driver.
Pigot had known a few weeks ago that racing for ECR could be jeopardized, but had hoped that it wouldn’t come to fruition. Then yesterday, 30 minutes prior to Racer Magazine reporting that he was no longer with ECR, he learned that his time with the team had ended.
When I asked Spencer what his plan was when he initially found out that ECR may be moving in another direction and what his plan was he said
“As I was still under consideration for a seat with ECR we didn’t chase anything too aggressively but did make some calls to other teams in IndyCar. At that late point teams were still looking for funding from their drivers so those talks didn’t go too far after that.”
His reaction to finding out about the change was
“obviously disappointing to lose a drive but I understand why the decisions were made. At the end of the day it’s a business and the teams need to make sense financially and sometimes they need that funding to come from the driver. When that happens it leaves the driver without funding on the outside and that’s what happened with me.”
With Spencer’s history with Juncos Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan, there may be an opportunity to possibly get a ride with them and the Pigot camp has already had conversations with both teams:
“I’ve had a few conversations with those teams and others but at the moment they’re all looking for funded drivers so nothing has progressed much.”
The harshest part about racing for a driver doesn’t necessarily come on the track, but off the track, where contracts aren’t guaranteed and someone’s word is as reliable as an underfunded car racing around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend.
With ratings up since moving full time to NBC, there is hope that eventually we will move in a direction of their being enough of a television deal pot to go around where talented and popular drivers like Spencer Pigot and James Hinchcliffe don’t have to scratch and claw to fund a full time ride and their owners don’t have to lie to them and tell them their rides are safe after the season.