James Hinchcliffe returned to racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series last weekend as the 2016 season got underway and on Monday, Paddock Eye spoke with the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver of the No.5 Arrow Electronics driver.
I began by asking him:
Firstly, how did you feel getting back into the car on the grid for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg?
Yeah, found it great, obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted, but you can’t always control the first turn on the first lap unfortunately, but as a while it great to be back in the car, it was great to be back in competition, you know, I have been back driving and testing, and things like that quite a bit but ultimately it’s the competition that you miss and I was excited to back into that.
Did you have any nice sensation being back on the grid?
Well its funny after first practice which didn’t go too well for us, you’re sitting there frustrated at everything your thinking man why did I fight so hard to come back to this but it all sort of came good, but I mean for me getting back into qualifying was one of the better memories of the weekend, because like I said that is the ultimate competition, it’s that one lap, it’s trying to find the ultimate pace, that’s something I didn’t get to do in testing you know get the red tyres on it and really push for that single lap against everyone else. So that was obviously a lot of fun. And you know the grid was very relaxed and it was nice and I am so lucky to still do what I’m doing and you just enjoy it every chance you get.
Heading to Phoenix for the next race, what are your thoughts on the circuit and how do you think the No.5 car will perform?
The track is obviously pretty unique for us it’s kind of a weird hybrid of Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono all in one, and the series hasn’t raced there in quiet some time about ten years and going back you know we tested there as a group at the end of February and it’s fast! It’s incredibly fast, incredibly physical but at the same time it’s very difficult to race on so you know it’s going to be a tricky race, very easy to make a mistake and as always it’s going to be the team and driver that make the fewest mistakes that will end up on top and there is no reason why the No.5 car can’t be that guy.
Are you at all nervous getting onto an oval again after Indy or do you just say I have a job to do and that’s it?
Exactly right, for me a tracks a track a track, and oval, road course, street course you know it doesn’t matter the risks are the same inherently for me and you know I think that a track like Phoenix is very different than a track like Indianapolis but even getting to Indianapolis I’m not anticipating having any issues in that sense so no for me it’s just get the head down and try and get the job done.
Do you have any pre–race rituals?
No, no, I’m superstitious about not being superstitious, I think that the guys that get into the car on just one side or put their left glove on before the right glove or wear a certain set of underwear or whatever, you almost cyking yourself out before the race even starts so I try and avoid any of those situations and just get on with the job you know because if you honestly believe that the order in which you put your gloves on is going to have an effect on the outcome of your race I’m not sure I want to even be racing against you.
There has been talk recently of IndyCar scheduling a non-championship event in Europe at the end of the season, Firstly what are your thoughts on this, and if the race goes ahead where would you like to see it held?
For me, I think it’s a great idea, I mean first of all its adding races to my year which is obviously a big plus, I know there’s a big fan base in Europe, I think the races that CART and Champ Car did over there in years past were always incredibly successful and I think it’s important for us to think of ourselves as more than just a North American championship because of the diversity we have you know especially in the driver line up. Not having races anymore in Brazil or Japan we are really limited to how we’ve been in the past so getting back to Europe I think would be great. I
hope it is something we can do not just once and not just as a non-championship race, I would love to see races over there as part of the championship. In terms of what track? I mean there are so many over there, it’s tough to pick one, the odds are we’re not going to be able to secure Formula One circuits just because that’s the way Bernie likes to run his show you know and that’s fine, but there are plenty of other race tracks around Europe that would be very suitable for IndyCar and I think put on a great show.
The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is less than three months away, what, in your opinion, makes racing at the Brick yard so special?
You know why? I honestly think it just comes down to the history of the place. It’s obviously a very challenging race track but there challenging race tracks in other parts of the world that other series race on or whatever but Indianapolis just has something you can’t buy. You can give Hermann Tilke an unlimited budget and some country no one has ever heard of and say hey, build a great new race track and that’s fine but you just can’t buy history, and this is the longest running race, our 100th running, one of the oldest race tracks in the country, probably the world and when you look at whose raced here, the races that have happened here, it’s the who’s who of racing greats and legends and it’s some of the greatest races of all time and that’s just not something you can buy so for me, that’s what makes Indy Indy, it’s just 100 years now of history and tradition that you simply can’t replicate.
Where did the idea of HinchTown come from?
That came from a basement office in a town called Luddington, Michigan many many years ago over a case of beer. It was one of those things where, it was time to make a website I was sort of at that stage in my career and wanted to do something a little bit different and so we came up with the idea of having a town, you each building in the town would be a traditional segment of a website and would make myself the proclaimed mayor of the place and it was just something to have some fun and be a little different and it kind of just took on a life of its own and now I am introduced the mayor of HinchTown more than I am James Hinchcliffe.
Racing in front of your home crowd is always very special, having missed the Honda Indy Toronto last season how excited are you to be returning there, and does having home support give you more momentum going into the race?
Yeah I have always loved been able to go to that race as a competitor because I went for so many years as a spectator and switching over to the other side of the fence was a very big moment for me and finally getting to do it in the big series in 2011 was huge and I was gutted to miss it last year, at least I was able to be there, it was the first race I was actually cleared to come back for and it kept my streak alive of I think it’s 29 consecutive visits to that race either as a participant or a spectator, but for sure going there is something a little extra special for me and you do have a little more fire under you but we’re all competitors we put almost as much emphasis on every single race as any other and there it’s the same deal you try and approach it like any other track, like any other race weekend, it’s just heightened emotions you know so if something goes well it feels even better and if something goes poorly it feels even worse but at the end of the day I am very lucky to be able to say that I have a race in my home town and be able to do that.
Finally, Mikhail Aleshin is your team mate this year, and finished in fifth place in St Petersburg, how are you finding working with him and how confident are you for the rest of the season following his strong result at St Pete?
Yeah I mean Mikhail and the whole 7 crew did a great job at St Pete to stay out of trouble when the rest of us couldn’t and you know he drove a good race and a top five finish is a great result for him and he has been good to work with the big thing is he has been with the team before, you know so it makes it a little easier in the sense there is not the get to know you phase there you know with the engineers an mechanics he knows the way they work, they know the way he works and so it’s been a pretty smooth transition so far and hopefully we can build off his success from St Pete and keep the top five coming as a team.