Many questions for Hinchcliffe at Indy 500

From left: American Ryan Hunter-Reay will start third, Canadian James Hinchcliffe starts second and...

From left: American Ryan Hunter-Reay will start third, Canadian James Hinchcliffe starts second and Australian Ryan Briscoe has the pole position in Sunday's Indy 500 race. (REUTERS)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS - Over the next 96 hours leading up to his second start in the most prestigious oval race in the world, James Hinchcliffe’s focus will be all Indy, all the time.

The 25-year-old from Oakville said on Wednesday there are still some question marks in his mind about how the Indianapolis 500 will play out — and that bothers him.

He likes answers. He doesn’t much like questions.

Questions like: How will the new Dallara DW12 act over 500 miles? Will the brand new engine packages from Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus hold together in the longest race of the season? And will expected high track temperatures on race day change the way the teams need to set up the race cars?

“It’s a race of unknowns,” Hinchcliffe said during a conference call with media members.

“This is the first time anybody will run this car for a full race distance on an oval. With the heat we’re expecting on Sunday, that throws a question mark into the mix. We just don’t know how this car is going to race.”

He said another factor is that no amount of practice leading up to the race can replicate what the conditions will be like when the Indy gets underway at noon Sunday.

“As much as we try to run around in packs in practice, when you have all 33 cars on track running flat-out and racing properly, it’s a very different game than what you see during practice, even though we’ll see (some of it) on Carb Day,” Hinchcliffe said.

“You’re going to have to be flexible on your strategy, you’re going to have to adjust the car at pit stops and inside the cockpit, stay ahead of the changing conditions.

“That’s sort of the nature of this race, just because of how long it is. We’ll have the hottest day we’ve had all month on Sunday.

“Setups are going to be a little bit of a shot in the dark because you don’t have decades worth of data to rely on and go back to and try to nail this setup as perfectly as possible. It’s going to be about compromise and it’s going to be about adaptation.”

Hinchcliffe will also have the weight of his fans back in Canada on his mind. It is no accident that his Andretti Autosport Chevrolet carries the No. 27.

It is, of course, the same number that Jacques Villeneuve had when he became the only Canadian in almost 100 years to win the Indianapolis 500 back in 1995.

It is also the number that Jacques’ father Gilles Villeneuve had on his Ferrari when he won the first Canadian Grand Prix on the Montreal track that now bears his name.

Hinchcliffe said it is a legacy that is very tough to live up to.

“I mean, it’s beyond words,” he said. “That’s a tough thing to describe.”

But he said he hopes he will be able to put all the hype and pressure behind him when race time comes.

“Obviously, this is the biggest race of our calendar,” Hinchcliffe said. “This is the one that everybody wants to win.

“I think honestly, though, that one of the big tricks of Indianapolis is you really have to try to treat it like any other race.”

That, he admits, may be much easier said than done.

“Because at the end of the day, this is not only the biggest race on our schedule, it’s the biggest race in the world,” Hinchcliffe said.

“As soon as you start thinking about that and appreciating that fact before you get in the racecar, I think it really puts your head in a different place. That’s not necessarily the place you want to be.

“It’s not the way I want to approach my race on Sunday. I want to get on with the job we’ve been doing as a team and try to continue that momentum.

“A big element of it, yeah, is to try to push that as far out of your mind as possible.”

Hinchcliffe said having raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before — albeit only 250 miles before his car broke down during last year’s Indy — should help him this time around.

“I think knowing what’s coming day-to-day is a good advantage,” he said. “I think you can mentally prepare a lot better just knowing what Community Day is like, knowing what Carb Day is like, knowing what race morning is like.

“Last year, these were all new experiences. People try to tell you, but some of these things are unique experiences.

“Until you actually go through them, you don’t know what to expect.

“More than anything, I feel mentally more prepared having had the experience ... last year.”

THE DEAN OF SPEED’S TOP 5 CANADIANS WHO RACED AT THE INDY 500

1. Jacques Villeneuve

While he competed in only two Indianapolis 500s, Villeneuve had more success that any other Canadian before or since at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In his first attempt in 1994, Villeneuve placed second behind race winner Al Unser, Jr.

Villeneuve had been brought to the then-CART series by Australian team owner Barry Green, with the financial backing of Player’s tobacco.

He wasn’t expected to be able to compete with the powerful trio from Penske: Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and fellow Canadian Paul Tracy.

Although he finished a distant 8.6 seconds behind Unser, he was the only other car on the lead lap when the checkered flag flew to end the race.

That race also marked the end of the great Mario Andretti’s Indy career.

2. Scott Goodyear

Of all the Canadians who have raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the U.S. Memorial Day weekend, none has a record to match Toronto’s Scott Goodyear.

In 11 tries at the Indianapolis 500, Goodyear registered two second place finishes and five top 10 finishes for teams such as Walker Racing, Treadway Racing, Panther Racing and Team Cheever.

His most noteworthy result came in 1992 when he qualified 33rd — dead last — in a race car backed by Canadian investment company Mackenzie Financial Corporation.

By the end of the 500 miles, Goodyear finished second in the closest finish in Indy 500 history — just 0.043 seconds separated him from race winner Al Unser, Jr.

In a race he should have won in 1995, Goodyear was the dominant car until a yellow flag was thrown and officials ruled he passed the pace car, handing the victory to Villeneuve.

3. Alex Tagliani

He may not have the pedigree of Villeneuve or the longevity of Goodyear, but Tagliani accomplished something that no other Canadian driver had before: Win the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 in the No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Honda.

Tagliani’s feat in 2011 was an astounding accomplishment for a driver with a team that was a one-car effort all season long and came into the month of May grossly underfunded when compared to teams such as Penske Racing, Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.

The team came up with a plan to put all their limited resources into a qualifying effort, while the rest of the grid was concentrating on race set-ups.

It worked to perfection, with Tagliani making a four-lap run on Pole Day that averaged out to 227.472 m.p.h.

To top that off, Tagliani’s teammate that day was the late Dan Wheldon, who won the race.

4. Paul Tracy

By all that is fair and right, Paul Tracy’s name should be alongside Jacques Villeneuve’s as a winner of the Indianapolis 500.

But in racing, sometimes fair and right do not enter the equation when it comes to the politics of the sport.

In 2002, with one lap remaining in the 86th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Tracy moved to his left to pass then-race leader Helio Castroneves.

Just as he got past the red-and-white Penske Racing machine, a caution came out on the race track.

But then-Indy Racing League bosses ruled Tracy made the pass after the yellow flag.

Tracy’s team appealed the official call, but that appeal was denied.

Tracy claims to this day he won the race and it was only because he raced in the rival Champ Car World Series that he had the win taken away.

5. James Hinchcliffe

The inclusion of James Hinchcliffe in this list is admittedly more about what he may do over the next 10 or so seasons than what he has accomplished so far in his career.

This year’s Indianapolis 500 is, after all, only his second attempt at the Brickyard in an IZOD IndyCar Series machine.

But his second place in qualifying last week gives him some cache into the high ranks of Canadians who have made the trip to Indianapolis.

Remember: He came oh so close to equalling Tagliani’s feat of the year before, missing by a mere .003 m.p.h. or 0.0023 seconds over 10 miles.

Hinchcliffe has also bettered some pretty formidable competitors over the month as well.

He will start in front of three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves, four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti and his two Andretti Autosport teammates, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti.

HINCHCLIFFE DOESN’T RULE OUT COCA COLA 600, TOO

INDIANAPOLIS — With rumours running rampant that Andretti Autosport is in the planning stages of racing next season in both the IZOD IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, James Hinchcliffe threw his hat in the ring for the most daunting double in all of racing.

Hinchcliffe said that if the right opportunity came along, where he could race the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600 on the same day, he would give it serious consideration.

That 1,100-mile racing feat has been attempted by only three racers over the past two decades — Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti — none of whom came close to winning in either race.

“You know, I’ll never say never to anything,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’m a competitive person. I wouldn’t want to do that unless I’d been prepared properly and felt like I could manage it, but it’s a cool challenge. Every driver likes challenges. That’s why we do this. We’re all competitive. We want to prove that we’re the best.

“But like I said, if the situation is right, if I felt I could be competitive in both series, I’d do it.”


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