For the Oakville, Ontario native, the Honda Indy Toronto will mark the hometown driver’s first IZOD IndyCar Series race on the Toronto track.
“I’ve been telling everybody that I’ve been coming to this race since I was 18 months old,” James Hinchcliffe said during the teleconference. “I’ve had the opportunity to drive here in a few of the different junior formulas over the years which have all been incredible in their own right, but at the end of the day I was always sitting in the grandstands with everybody else when the main show started. It’s going to be special this year to see the race from a different seat.”
[media-credit name=”Indy Car Media” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]It won’t be the first time he has ran the street circuit as he has ran it four times before in the Firestone Indy Lights division, which he finished 10th last year after a crash and third in 2009.
Though while the race will be special for Hinchcliffe, it also marks a milestone for the event as it marks the 25th Anniversary.
“Probably my favorite came in ’99,” he said. “I got the opportunity to spend 10 minutes chatting with Greg Moore, who was my hero growing up, when I started go-karting and everything. I had somehow, through a very long story I won’t bore you with, procured the steering wheel off of Greg’s first racecar, his ’91 Van Diemen Formula Ford. I stood outside his trailer for three hours and ten minutes through varying weather conditions and different people standing with me, none of them willing to stay the whole time.
“After a while, Greg actually came out, one of his mechanics went and got him when I explained the story of the wheel. He came out and chatted with my sister and me for 10 or 15 minutes. It was the only conversation I ever got to have with Greg and certainly one of my biggest memories from any race ever.”
Hinchcliffe has had success racing in Canada as last year, he won at Edmonton in the Firestone Indy Lights division.
“Well, you know, obviously Canadians are very proud people,” he said. “We have a sort of small population compared to some of the other big countries in the world. When it comes to sports, we like to prove that we can still compete.
“Motor racing is no different. I think there’s a big motor racing heritage in Canada, especially with open-wheel. So they’re very big fans. Even when I was racing in the junior formula, the support that you got from the fans in Toronto and Edmonton was incredible. They’re very knowledgeable, very passionate. They just love cheering on the locals.
“For me certainly that win in Edmonton last year was one of the high points of my racing career. I raced in Canada a bunch of times, but it was the first time in my formula car career that I managed to take a win on home soil. So it was a nice moment, especially after rebounding from a DNF in Toronto the week before.”
Hinchcliffe made the jump from the Indy Lights to IndyCar after second in points last year driving for Mark Moore.
“The transition has been certainly more difficult in some aspects than I was expecting and maybe a little smoother in other aspects,” he said. “It’s been a little bit of everything. The workload in IndyCar is certainly a lot more, and more than I was expecting. But to the other side of that, the first time I got to drive the car, I was very pleased to see how comfortable I was in it right away. I think a lot of that credit has to go to the Indy Lights Series, the time I spent there, how close that car is. It’s a very competitive series. You really appreciate that now you are driving against the best guys in North America. It’s been a huge learning experience. Rookies don’t get a ton of testing these days, so every race weekend is basically a two- or three-day test session. It’s all about getting laps. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute. We’ve had some ups and some downs. Some aspects were more difficult. At the end of the day I’ve worked very hard to get to this point and I’m learning as much as I possibly can every opportunity I get and just enjoying every single minute of it.”
In making the transition from Indy Lights to IndyCar, Hinchcliffe has had his teammate Oriol Servia to lean on.
“He was there at my first test,” he said. “Every track that we go to now, I’m going to for the first time in this car. He’s a huge asset as a teammate. Our personal relationship is very good. He’s always super willing to help. I think there’s a lot of mutual respect there. We’ve been able to work well together, with our engineers, on trying to improve the car on weekends when maybe it didn’t roll off with what we wanted. Had all sorts of advice and tips, especially during the month of May, places like Texas that can be a little bit intimidating, Milwaukee. So there’s no doubt that he’s been a huge, huge contributor to that. If you were to pick one person, he would probably have to top the list.”
This year’s rookie crop in the IndyCar Series is very diverse, in which Hinchcliffe says its kind of nice to be on the list with the group.
“In all seriousness, I’m glad I’m a rookie this year because this is probably the best rookie crop they’ve had in over a decade,” he said. “It’s cool to be able to put your name on that list with that crop. I think whoever walks away with the rookie of the year award this year can truly say that he or she earned it and had some fierce competition trying to get it. It was certainly no walk in the park. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure it’s our name on that trophy at the end of the season. Either way, it’s good to know you’ve gone up against such a good crop of guys and girls and been able to compete.”
So far, the season has been good for Hinchcliffe as he currently sits second in the Sonoco Rookie of the Year Point Standings with a best finish of fourth at Long Beach earlier this year. That gives Hinchcliffe some hope for the hometown race as the courses are very similar.
“I think there are definitely some similarities between Toronto and Long Beach,” he commented. “If you had to pick a circuit that was closest to Toronto, it probably would be Long Beach. For sure, I guess that’s a confidence booster heading into this weekend. But I think we’ve had pretty good cars in all the street circuits so far this year. It’s just a type of track that Newman Haas seems to enjoy. This particular track, they’ve won seven times, five of them with Michael Andretti. I watched them do it every single time they did it.
“We’re hoping again that we’ll have a good car here. I just seem to like street circuits. I have since I first started racing them back in 2004. Although Toronto has not necessarily been my strongest track historically, it’s the same type of circuit. If everything goes our way, I think we can have another strong finish.”