Things are looking promising for James Hinchcliffe. Back in “The Mayor’s Office” as the driver of the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series, he’s fought hard in every race and brought his infectious personality off track. IndyCar Examiner spoke to Hinch just prior to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to see how he evaluates his 2016 season to date.
He may not be on the podium yet but Hinchcliffe’s difficulties this season haven’t really been his fault. Most recently, in the Phoenix Grand Prix, contact with the No. 21 of Josef Newgarden clipped his tire and spoiled his day. So how does he consider the season when the results haven’t been there, but he’s not necessarily doing anything wrong?
“It’s funny, you look back and you qualify and we had a strong performance,” he said. “The race itself, we got tripped in one lap and when we got on again it was quite strong. I was confident we would have had decent results. It can be a bit frustrating but at the same time, we just need to stay out of trouble.
“Phoenix kind of put us in the back for the rest of the weekend but there’s no reason going into Long Beach that 18th or 19th place finishes is what we’re expecting,” Hinchcliffe continued. “We know we’re capable of things better than that.”
Is there added pressure to do well in this race because of the problems in the previous one? He doesn’t consider success that way. “You can’t plan too much in advance,” he explained. “There’s so many variables that go into a race weekend that you have to play things as they come. But for sure we’re really looking to post up a good one and get the momentum going in our favor.”
The Grand Prix of Long Beach was the perfect place to do that, as Hinchcliffe finished eighth to score his first Top 10 of the season. To hear him tell it, he has an appreciation for Southern California’s only IndyCar event. “There’s a lot I love about the race,” he reflected. “It’s great to come back every year and see the fan support and the beautiful backdrop.
“The track itself, I don’t know what it is but Long Beach and I get along really well,” he continued. “We have all the way back to my Junior Formula days and when I first started coming back in 2006. I have a lot of firsts on that track. It’d be nice to keep that momentum going and try to grab another good result there.”
Many people are already looking further down the schedule, as now there are only two races that stand between the league and the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. That event has been being hyped up and talked about since before the 2016 season started. Everyone knows how much winning that would mean. So for a driver, is it difficult to focus on the events in front of you and not start thinking of them all as test runs for Indy?
“It’s tough for sure,” Hinchcliffe conceded. “There’s some very valuable points available between here and Indy and you can’t get too lost. But at the same time, before the season even starts people are thinking about the month of May. Part of that is preparation is already started. The guys are already in their shops working on the speedway cars from February onward. It’s always in the back of your mind.”
At least when he gets to Indianapolis he’ll have the opportunity to relax after the race with one of his own ice cold beers. Hinch has ventured into brewing, and told us about his side venture. “I grew up in Canada so, it’s kind of a thing back home,” he explained. “I got introduced to Sean O’Connor, who is the owner of a brewery called Flat12 Bierwerks in Indianapolis, and we started the idea of making a collaboration together.
“Long story short, four years ago we started brewing and we’ve been using it every race season since. Now we’re heading into May and we thought about doing an event beer,” he continued. “It’s easy drinking and great for the race track. I wanted to try something different so for the month of May we’re brewing what I call the ‘The Bricks’ Red IPA. We’re adding a little bit of milk sugar to it.”
That is, of course, a nice hat tip to the milk that’s given ceremonially to the winner of the Indianapolis 500. You can find out more about that and his original ‘Hinchtown Hammerdown’ beer at the Flat12 website.
Once Hinchcliffe completes this weekend’s race in Alabama he’ll be a quarter of the way through the season. Does he feel like his return year is flying by? “For sure,” he said, giving us his thoughts on a longer season. “Every driver wants to race as much as possible. We had the calendar shortened a few years back and we’ve added a month to it this year. We want to try and get a few more races on the calendar as well. Maybe some races overseas. The longer the season, the more races, the better.”
Spoken like a true comeback hero, and the sport is certainly much better off to have him. He’ll be back behind the wheel of the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama this Sunday, Apr. 24. Tickets and complete race information are available at the Verizon IndyCar Series website.