James Hinchcliffe proved last season he could win races. Now it’s time to show he has what it takes to contend week-after-week for the Verizon IndyCar Series title.
It was just a year ago the Oakville, Ont., native was still looking for his first race victory. It didn’t take long, the season opener in St. Petersburg in fact, for Hinchcliffe to achieve that goal. He made a spectacular pass by Helio Castroneves late in the race and held off the three-time Indy 500 winner to take the checkered flag.
Hinchcliffe added two more wins to his total after a last-lap slingshot by Takuma Sato in Sao Paulo and a dominant victory in Iowa — leading 226 of the 250-lap oval race. However, at times it seemed like Hinchcliffe was in the seat of a rollercoaster rather than an Indy car as his season went from high to low in an instant.
Programming alert: Coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins with a preview show at 2:30 p.m. ET / 11:30 a.m. PT on City, with encore broadcasts at 8 p.m. local on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific. | Full TV schedule
Sandwiched between his wins in St. Petersburg and Sao Paulo were two DNFs that landed him back in 26th place at both Barber and Long Beach. Right after his stunning Iowa victory, Hinchcliffe crashed out on the first lap of Pocono and the second Toronto race saw him stall on the grid leading to a multiple-lap deficit that he couldn’t overcome on the narrow street course.
Hinchcliffe ended his “feast or famine” season on a high note with a third-place finish in the second Houston race and fourth in Fontana but in the final points standings he was right back in eighth, the same spot he ended in 2012.
Now in his fourth IndyCar season, and third with Andretti Autosport, Hinchcliffe returns to St. Petersburg to open the 2014 campaign and is looking to build off of last year’s late momentum for a solid season.
“There's only so many derivatives, eventually I'm going to get it right,” Hinchcliffe said during IndyCar media day in Orlando last month. “Last year we had the pace early but not the consistency. … I think we actually ended the year on more of a high than people realized, which is fine. As long as we know it, what we were doing to get that, that could put us in a good position for this year.”
Getting that first win out of the way early last season was a significant factor in establishing his confidence as it proved the self-proclaimed “class clown” could be serious about winning once the visor was down and the cars were on the course.
“For me personally on track it made a big difference because when I was then in situations later in the year where a win was on the line, I felt a lot less pressure,” Hinchcliffe said, “because I think there was a big amount of pressure to get that first win and be part of that group, so to speak.
“I think it really does free your mind up a little bit when you're in those circumstances, again knowing that, ‘Hey, I've been here, I know I can do it, let's focus and get the job done,’ rather than make yourself overanalyze and make a mistake.”
If there has been one constant in Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar career so far, it’s change. He switched teams after his 2011 rookie season when Newman/Haas Racing announced it couldn’t compete full-time in the series anymore. Hinchcliffe joined Andretti Autosport for 2012 taking over the GoDaddy car from NASCAR-bound Danica Patrick and along with a new ride came an overhauled chassis (the DW12) and a new engine (from Honda to Chevrolet).
This year not only sees Hinchcliffe sporting a new main sponsor with United Fiber & Data replacing GoDaddy (his “green machine” is now blue-and-white) but also a return to Honda.
Hinchcliffe looks forward to the changes but how he handles it all on the track and fares among the field will have to wait until the green flag in St. Petersburg.
“Getting to work with a new partner on that side of things is a fun challenge,” Hinchcliffe said. “At the end of the day we have no idea where anybody stands and we probably won't until we get to St. Pete.”