(Reuters) - It was James Hinchcliffe's winning personality that landed him IndyCar's most prized drive, but the Canadian will now have to prove he is also a winner on the track if he is to keep the seat left vacant by Danica Patrick's move to NASCAR.
Andretti Autosport said on Wednesday that Hinchcliffe landed the coveted Go Daddy ride that was originally supposed to go to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, who died in a horrific crash at last season's IndyCar finale in Las Vegas.
Instead, it will be Hinchcliffe trying to fill Patrick's spot when the series opens in March in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Hinchcliffe had three fourth place finishes last season for Newman/Haas Racing, earning rookie of the year honors, but much more will be expected from the Canadian, on and off the track, who takes over one of IndyCar's most recognized and lucrative sponsorships, driving for one of the series' top teams.
It was a difficult end to 2011 for everybody, Hinchcliffe said on a conference call. But I guess when one door closes another window opens and this incredible opportunity came up with Andretti Autosport and Go Daddy and everyone is just looking forward to getting going.
It was edgy commercials and promotional campaigns for the Internet domain registrar that transformed Patrick into the Go Daddy Girl and made her North America's most popular and recognizable driver.
Team owner Michael Andretti admitted that Go Daddy had considerable input into selecting Patrick's replacement and found what they were looking for in Hinchcliffe, the social media savvy 25-year-old who developed his own quirky website Hinchtown.com to help promote his racing dreams.
As the mayor of Hinchtown, Hinchcliffe has been able to show off his fun-loving side in series of videos from giving residents of Hinchtown a New Year's Day address to taking a bath in a washing machine for dogs and cats.
I've never really been an inside the box kind of guy, said Hinchcliffe. That's one of the reasons we sort of created Hinchtown in the first place, to get myself, my personality out there a little bit and just try to be different and stand out.
A lot of the headlines have said, 'Hinchcliffe replacing Danica in the Go Daddy car' and, in a sense, I am replacing her in the seat and driving.
But I don't think in any way are we trying to say I am going to replace Danica because what she did and what Go Daddy did with her was so unique and so special.
Go Daddy will present Hinchcliffe with opportunities to build his brand outside the cockpit but it is inside the car where he will have to build his reputation as a driver.
While Patrick was able to survive seven years on the IndyCar circuit with just one win, similar results are unlikely to keep Hinchcliffe's bosses satisfied.
He joins a powerhouse three-car team at Andretti that includes Australian Ryan Briscoe and Michael Andretti's son Marco and top results are expected.
He did an awesome job last year, he proved he can run up front and he has a great personality, said Andretti.
Obviously Go Daddy had a lot of say as well into who they wanted to represent their product and they were very high on James right away when we brought up his name.
They are a little edgy and fun and I think James can be that way ... He is going to be perfect for our team.