James Hinchcliffe has been confirmed for the entire Firestone Indy Lights season, having landed the coveted #7 machine fielded by series powerhouse Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
The 22-year old Canadian earned the ride after competing against a group of championship regulars in a multi-round shoot-out, securing his graduation from the Atlantic Championship despite a tough third season in 2008.
''I don't think the word 'excited' does justice to how I feel about joining Sam Schmidt Motorsports,'' Hinchcliffe admitted, ''I really am honoured 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 Ana Beatriz and Gustavo Yacaman. In fact, I have never been looking forward to any racing season as much as I am this year.''
The Toronto native has won races in the Atlantic Championship and competed for Team Canada in the A1GP Series, but has become more recognised out of the cockpit for television work, having joined the broadcast teams for both A1GP and the now-defunct Champ Car World Series.
''The switch to Firestone Indy Lights was a no-brainer,'' 'Hinch' insisted, ''Through my whole career, I have made my decisions to race based on where the competition is and, for 2009, there is no junior formula car series on earth that will be more competitive. Also, to support the IndyCar Series is an excellent chance to prove you can hack it in the big cars.''
Though he has many years of experience in formula cars, the 2009 racing season will give Hinchcliffe his first taste of high-speed oval racing. He's received a preview of the atmosphere through limited testing he's done with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the off-season.
''Ovals are obviously a new thing for me, but I have enjoyed them more than I thought I would,'' he revealed, ''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 also gives Sam Schmidt Motorsports another quality driver in its quest to reclaim the Firestone Firehawk Cup after finishing second and third in the 2008 championship. The team is already the most successful in the combined Indy Pro Series/Indy Lights record books, having claimed the drivers' championship in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
''We're really looking forward to taking back the championship this year,'' Schmidt concluded, ''We've put together a great group of drivers with James, Bia and Gustavo, and I think all three have the potential to win races and be champions. We've got a lot of exciting things going on this year, and I can't wait to get down to St Pete to get started.''