April 24, 2012
Hinchcliffe sidesteps sophomore jinx
By Dean McNulty, QMI AGENCY
So much for the sophomore jinx many thought might infect Canada’s James Hinchcliffe in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season.
In the first three races of the 2012 all Hinchcliffe has done is come out of every qualifying effort in the fast six and end up with one podium — a third at the Toyota Long Beach Prix — and two top six finishes.
This after capturing rookie of the year honours in 2011.
But Hinchcliffe faced a steep learning curve after his Newman-Haas Racing team folded after the season finale at Las Vegas.
The 25-year-old native of Oakville, however, was quickly snapped up by Andretti Autosport to replace Danica Patrick in the high profile GoDaddy.com car.
Not only was he dropped into a new team, Hinchcliffe also had to deal with a brand new race car — the Dallara DW12 — and a new engine manufacturer in Chevrolet.
Hinchcliffe sat down with the Toronto Sun prior to leaving for Brazil for Sunday’s Sao Paulo Indy 300 to talk about his challenges for this season with all the changes he is facing.
“Going into the season we really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “Now, having three races under our belt and having started in the top six and finished in the top six in each one of those races, I think we can have a little bit of a firmer picture as to where we should line up.”
Hinchcliffe said those first three results has the team wheel-to-wheel with the powerful Penske and Ganassi teams who have won the past six IndyCar championships between them.
It is where Hinchcliffe thinks the Andretti team should be as they get ready for Sao Paulo.
“Heading to Sao Paulo, it is another street circuit, so based on the Long Beach and St. Petersburg performances of the team as a whole — not just the Go Daddy Chevrolet — we expect to be fighting for the fast six and hopefully we will be fighting for a podium.”
I asked Hinchcliffe if he was surprised at how quickly he has adapted to his new team.
“Yes, definitely because right off the bat it was like I was starting over with everything,” he said. “There was a lot to get used to right away.
“There is so much going on. You have got the new car; you have got the new engine; you have got the new team. So I am learning all of that as we go along.
“But to be fair we did have a good amount of time together in the winter to acclimatize — me to them and them to me.”
It didn’t all run as smoothly as it appeared from the outside. Hinchcliffe said once the team started testing he realized the new Dallara DW12 was different than anything he had driven before.
“When I first jumped into this car it didn’t suit my driving style,” he said. “It actually was counter to what I was used to.”
But he said that a bit of team bonding was all it took for him to begin adjusting his style to the car.
Hinchcliffe said IndyCar veteran Ryan Hunter-Reay helped steer him in the right direction.
“I had to work very hard to change a certain element of my driving style,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to be as close to Ryan as early as we have been because his driving style was very suited to this car when we first started testing together.
“So, if anything, my performances so far, are a big credit to him because I have learned a lot from him, just having him on the team has really helped me adapt to this car quicker.”
Hinchcliffe said there are still many more challenges he will face as the season moves on, and none will be bigger than next month’s Indianapolis 500.
He is anxious to see if he can translate the kind of consistently good runs he has accrued on street and road courses to the big oval.
“We want to be consistent,” he said. “We have been quick on both street and road courses, but we still have to get to the ovals and see how we line up there.’
One thing Hinchcliffe has maintained throughout his career is his joy at being a race car driver. And that hasn’t changed with this new season.
“It has been a very big challenge but at the same time it has been a lot of fun and that is what I like.”