Just pinch Hinchcliffe

James Hinchcliffe. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency file photo)

James Hinchcliffe. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency file photo)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:39 AM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - It is a surreal moment for James Hinchcliffe, standing beside the giant shiny black and fluorescent green transporter that carries his No. 27 GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12 Chevrolet from race to race.

He is being quizzed about his first start in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, having missed last season’s IZOD IndyCar Series opener due to lack of sponsorship.

The surreal part of it is that the person asking the questions is Scott Goodyear, a Canadian racing hero in his own right and ESPN’s lead analyst for its coverage of the race on Sunday.

For Hinchcliffe, it is just another example of how his racing roots, growing up in Oakville, Ont., are never far from the surface, no matter where he may be racing.

And he is all too aware that after winning rookie-of-the-year honours in IndyCar last season, he is now expected to carry on a tradition of excellence that Canadians have created at the top of the open-wheel racing in North America.

Hinchcliffe said that it struck him that only a few years ago he would have been in line to ask Goodyear questions and to maybe nab an autograph.

“I get those moments all the time,” he said Friday.

He lists off the Canadian drivers who have gone on to win in open-wheel racing’s top North American series: Jacques Villeneuve, Goodyear, the late Greg Moore, Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani.

Hinchcliffe said it is a bit intimidating to think that he now is knocking on the door to join that exclusive club of IndyCar winning drivers.

“Yes, certainly,” he said. “If you look at the list of Canadian drivers who have made it to the top of the podium in IndyCar, whether it is Jacques, Greg, Paul, Alex, Patrick — all these guys are race winners.

“There has not been a whole lot of slouchy Canadian drivers.”

Hinchcliffe admits he does feel the pressure to measure up to those who have gone before him.

“If a Canadian has made it to this level, he has usually done pretty well and that does put pressure on you to add your name to that list and to make sure that you can keep up that tradition of good racing drivers that Canada has been able to produce,” he said.

According to Goodyear, Hinchcliffe is well on his way to winning in just his second IndyCar season. And, Goodyear insists, it is because Hinchcliffe is doing it the Canadian way — learning his craft thoroughly as he moved up the ladder from karting through, F2000s, Atlantics and Indy Lights.

He said too many young drivers are pushed too fast into race cars they are not equipped to drive and it results in crushed careers.

“I am having a conversation right now with my son Michael who is 15 and started karting four years ago,” Goodyear said. “Everybody seems to be in a rush to get their kids to the next level. I’m telling all the other dads, ‘Don’t be in a rush’.

“Hinch is a perfect example. Last year he was a rookie at 23. He gets in the series and doesn’t make a mistake; does a great job and proves himself well.”

The man who twice lost the Indianapolis 500 by a whisker, and has 139 IndyCar starts with five wins, said that Hinchcliffe was correct in biding his time, waiting until he had the right opportunity and the necessary experience before moving to IndyCar.

“I tell a lot of people this,” Goodyear said. “If you come in the series very early like when you are 18 or 20, you may not be ready — but James waited and now he is a little older and more mature. There is a lot of respect for him in the paddock — which his very important.

“And now he is no longer a driver on the move, or trying to get to the top level; he’s a driver who is being paid to drive at the top level which is a big deal.”

Hinchcliffe said he is just happy to be where he is and still gets the feeling that he has to pinch himself to make sure that it isn’t all just a dream that he gets to rub shoulders with the likes of Goodyear or four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti.

“It happens everyday, whether it is talking to Scott Goodyear or even just chatting with Dario,” he said. “Dario is a living legend that I still have to go bang wheels with him every weekend.

“At the end of the day I am still a huge fan of this sport and I have been a fan a lot longer than I have been behind the wheel of an IndyCar.”

But he does treasure the time he can spend with somebody like Goodyear, who he grew up admiring, not just as a fellow Canadian, but has a fellow driver who he can seek counsel from.

“It is really cool to have a guy like Scott around to bounce things off of; get some tips from,” Hinchcliffe said. “He is obviously was a pretty good driver and has loads of experience to pass on to me.”

Spoken like a true Canuck.


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