Hinchcliffe Welcomes Moment in the Sun
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on May 25, 2012 | 12:00 P.M. EST
James Hinchcliffe will take the green flag in Sunday’s race in the middle of Row 1. (Photo: John Cote)
In a short period of time, Hinchcliffe has become one of open wheel racing’s most popular drivers. His colorful personality and sometimes out of left field humor has made put Hinchcliffe in the spotlight in the days leading up to Sunday’s running of the 500.
Hinchcliffe has embraced the added pressure of replacing Danica Patrick with the Andretti Autosport team, taking over the ride she vacated in the aftermath of her move to NASCAR.
But rather than succumb to the stress, Hinchcliffe is enjoying the opportunity he’s been given.
"It's one of the toughest acts to follow in racing," Hinchcliffe said. "She did a lot of great things. She did a lot for our sport. To step into one of the most public and visible rides, you're going to get some flak and there's going to be jokes made.
"At the end of the day, nobody can make fun of me better than I can make fun of me. I figured I'd embrace it."
Hinchcliffe came up just short of winning the pole in last weekend’s qualifying and will take the green flag in Sunday’s race in the middle of Row 1.
Although disappointed he lost the top spot to Ryan Briscoe in the closest margin between Indy qualifiers for the first and second positions (.003-seconds), Hinchcliffe has put the experience behind him and is focused on winning the 500 mile classic.
“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,” Hinchcliffe said, explaining his outlook for Sunday’s race which is expected to be held in blazing heat.
“That’s sort of the nature of this race, just because of how long it is,” he said. “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 has some Indianapolis experience on his side and despite only finishing about half of last year’s race, he believes that seat time will still be beneficial in his sophomore outing.
“I think knowing what’s coming day-to-day is a good advantage,” he said of already going through the process of competing in the Indy 500. “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.”
That experience also plays into Hinchcliffe’s mindset and preparation for competing in Sunday’s race.
While the stakes are as high as they could possibly be, Hinchcliffe says the key is treating the Indianapolis 500 like just another race, even if that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“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."
But he admits that’s not an easy task.
“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.