Canadian driver Hinchcliffe looks to rebound from disappointing season

TORONTO — Canada’s James Hinchcliffe started his IndyCar season with a bang and ended it with a whimper.

It was all part of the learning process for the 30-year-old driver from Oakville, Ont., who has completed seven seasons on the circuit.

"Man, 2017, I almost sum up as a downward slope," he said Monday.

Hinchcliffe picked up his fifth career victory last April at Long Beach, one of three top-10 finishes over his first three races. But the season quickly got away from him and he settled for a 13th-place finish in the overall standings.

"As soon as we got taken out of the Indy 500, it seemed that was the day our luck changed for the worse," Hinchcliffe said of the late May race. "Taken out at Texas, taken out at Pocono, engine failure in Detroit, we had a lot of good races that were ruined by bad luck.

"There were certainly things that were outside of our control but to the same extent, we can definitely look inside and find a lot of things that we can do better as a team."

There were some highlights over the year, like third-place finishes at the first of the two Detroit races and in Toronto. However, the lowlight list was longer, including last-place results at the penultimate race at Watkins Glen (gearbox) and the season-ending race at Sonoma (electrical).

"There’s a lot of never-give-up attitude on this race team and that’s really important," Hinchcliffe said. "You occasionally have seasons like this, everybody does. Every athlete, no matter what the sport is, you’re going to have a year or two like that."

Hinchcliffe, who’s expected to formally re-sign with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this month, was named rookie of the year in 2011. His best season came in 2013 when he won three races and had six top-five finishes.

He’s now a circuit veteran even though he’s occasionally introduced as one of the "young guns" of IndyCar at news conferences.

"I don’t feel that way anymore, I don’t look that way anymore, I’ve got over 100 races under my belt," Hinchcliffe said. "So I’m definitely starting to get that sense (of experience). I feel it more inside when I find myself in certain situations on the track. I find myself reacting in a way that I would not have five years ago — in a good way.

"I’ve definitely learned and matured as a driver."

He points to the podium appearance in Detroit as a race that stood out for him.

"First lap, first corner, and I’m backwards all by myself," he said. "Old younger me would have been very angry and said, ‘Oh the day was ruined,’ and almost given up."

Hinchcliffe went on to finish third in that race behind Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon.

"That was a grown-up race for me," he said. "It was days like that that really showed me that I am developing as a driver. You put yourself in those situations every once in a while but it’s how you get yourself out of them that really matters."

Hinchcliffe, who held a media availability at a downtown lounge Monday during a promotional appearance with Sonnet Insurance, is still "actively working" on making an appearance on NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity series, although he has no plans to leave IndyCar.

"I would never I don’t think — at least in the short term — consider a full career switch of any kind," he said. "But I love trying other cars and getting experience in other series because it’s all experience. The golden saying in racing is there’s no substitute for seat time.

"So getting out of your comfort zone and going to do something different can actually serve you well when you go back to your day job, so to speak. I’ve always wanted to try as many different series as possible."