INDIANAPOLIS (AP) James Hinchcliffe just wanted a chance to be the No. 1 driver for an IndyCar contender.
He's about to get that shot.
The 27-year-old Canadian signed a multiyear contract with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, a move that pairs one of the series' most popular drivers with an up-and-coming team that has championship aspirations.
''Everyone wants to know if they can perform and I'm putting myself on trial a little bit,'' Hinchcliffe said at Tuesday's announcement.
Team co-owner Ric Peterson said Hinchcliffe would inherit the No. 77 car that was so successful with France's Simon Pagenaud last season. He did not reveal Hinchcliffe's primary sponsor. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.
The announcement ends speculation about where Hinchcliffe would land after a three-year run with one of the league's most formidable teams - Andretti Autosport.
While there, Hinchcliffe won three races and emerged as one of the series' most popular and marketable drivers by embracing social media. He became the self-appointed Mayor of Hinchtown, engaged with fans and now is promoting his own beer brand ''Hinchtown Hammer Down Golden Ale.''
With all that on the table, Andretti would have preferred to re-sign the young driver. But Hinchcliffe couldn't afford to wait much longer.
''We are happy to have had Hinch as part of the team over the past three years and have enjoyed our successes together,'' Andretti said. ''As a former driver, I understand him having to make the decision he did, he needed to cover himself. I wish that we could have resolved a deal to secure him for 2015, but we are not in that position yet. We're sorry to see him go, but wish him the best.''
Last season, Hinchcliffe made 18 starts, had four top-five finishes, eight top-10s and finished 12th in points.
On Tuesday, he repeatedly said he harbored no ill will toward his former team or his ex-teammates. Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and Ryan Hunter-Reay did face some unique challenges in 2014. At times, they raced hard not only against the field but also against one another - something Hinchcliffe said he only expects to intensify in 2015 now that they will be competing on different teams.
''They've been phenomenal teammates and even better friends,'' Hinchcliffe said. ''We beat up each other on the track and then would go out for a beer, and I think that will be the same way this year.''
Hinchcliffe already has an impressive resume. He was the series' 2011 rookie of the year, finished eighth in points in 2012 and `13, qualified second at Indianapolis in 2012 and `14 and had finished a career-best sixth at the series' marquee race in 2012.
Tuesday's move could be another big step for SPM.
In just three seasons, the low-funded, upstart Schmidt Peterson team has become the biggest threat to the series' power structure. Pagenaud finished fifth in points last season - the best finish for a driver who didn't work for Andretti, Chip Ganassi or Roger Penske.
Pagenaud's recent move to Penske's team opened the door for Hinchcliffe and it didn't take long for Peterson, Sam Schmidt or general manager Rob Edwards to make the offer.
''I've been aware of James since 2006, and three years ago when we looked at drivers then he was someone we looked at,'' Edwards said. ''I think he's progressed as a driver.''
Why make the move?
Hinchcliffe said he had more experience running with a two-car team, already had some relationships with team members at SPM and, yes, dreamed of the chance to be the lead dog on a team that could win both the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar championship.
And that was too good to pass up.
''It was frustrating competing against these guys the last couple of years,'' Hinchcliffe said. ''Hopefully, we can make this team grow.''