James Hinchcliffe is not only hungry for the start of the IndyCar season, but he’s also hungry for his first win in the series.
The 26-year-old Canadian driver tore it up during pre-season testing at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama last week and his combined results placed him second behind Team Penske driver Will Power.
Hinchcliffe’s stock was already on the rise after his first year with Andretti Autosport saw him score eight top-10 finishes and earn IndyCar’s Most Popular Driver award in 2012.
It wasn’t easy taking over for Danica Patrick in the GoDaddy-sponsored car but Hinchcliffe should continue to thrive in 2013.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: In just his second IndyCar season, Hinchcliffe quickly established himself as a worthy championship contender in 2012.
Hinchcliffe finished within the top six in seven of the first eight races and earned his first trip to the podium at Long Beach, Calif. Hinchcliffe ranked as high as second in the standings after finishing in third place at Milwaukee. The only blemish to his remarkable run in the first half of the season was a bizarre accident at Detroit’s Belle Isle street course where asphalt came loose on the track and sent Hinchcliffe crashing into a tire barrier.
The “Green Machine” is right up there among the fastest cars in the series. Hinchcliffe missed pole position at the Indianapolis 500 by only 0.003 m.p.h. — “less than the blink of an eye,” as Hinchcliffe said on Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Tuesday.
Now entering his third season, Hinchcliffe should have a better grasp of the tracks and which setups to use for his car — the things a driver gains only through experience. It also helps he has defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay as a teammate to swap racing strategies with.
Continuity with his Andretti crew will aid Hinchcliffe in his chase for his first win. It’s been almost six years since the last time a Canadian won a race but Hinchcliffe has the best chance to return the maple leaf to the top of the podium.
ROOM TO IMPROVE: Hinchcliffe’s second half of the season put the brakes on his solid run in 2012. He had only one top-10 finish in the final seven races and slipped down to eighth in the championship. Hinchcliffe did not finish three races over that span but other than crashing into the wall in Iowa, the other two weren’t his fault as engine problems knocked him out of Toronto and Sonoma.
A couple errors hindered his performances in Edmonton and Baltimore though. Hinchcliffe rolled the dice but came up snake eyes during an attempt to pass Simon Pagenaud in Edmonton. Hinchcliffe’s brakes locked up and a couple cars passed him instead. Hinchcliffe got around Pagenaud eventually but by that point he had to settle for a 12th-place finish in the race.
In Baltimore, Hinchcliffe was running as high as second but he got out of his car after an accident, thinking his race was over. Instead, all he had was a flat tire and Hinchcliffe jumped back into his car and had the problem fixed in the pits. The mistake cost him two laps and he finished the race in 15th.
CANADIAN CONNECTION: Well, he is the “Thrill from Oakville” after all and Hinchcliffe would love to win the Honda Indy Toronto. An engine change sent him to the 10th row on the grid in Toronto last year and about a third of the way through the race his replacement engine started losing power, sending him limping to pits and ending his day early. Toronto hosts a doubleheader this season, giving Hinchcliffe twice the chances to win in front of his hometown crowd.
OUTLOOK: Hinchcliffe will contend for the IndyCar championship and he should earn his first win this season. It will not be long until he earns the “Big Game James” moniker.