TORONTO — If everything falls into place at his home track, James Hinchcliffe could take the checkered flag on back-to-back weekends.
The Oakville, Ont., native heads into the Honda Indy in Toronto this weekend fresh off a come-from-behind victory over Josef Newgarden at the Iowa Corn 300 on Sunday.
Newgarden — the defending champion at the upcoming 2.84-kilometre race at Exhibition Place — led for 229 of the 300 laps before Hinchcliffe made a move and capitalized on the American getting stuck in lapped traffic at the Iowa Speedway. Newgarden finished fourth.
Despite carrying the momentum of his first victory of the season, the Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports driver is cautious about his odds of unseating Newgarden and breaking through in Toronto after two straight years of third-place finishes.
But Hinchcliffe believes he and his team have what it takes to seize on an opportunity, much like his result in Iowa.
“You have to go in with that mindset,” the 31-year-old said in a phone interview Sunday.
“It takes a thousand factors going just right to win one of these races, so every weekend we go into the race thinking, ‘we’ve got a shot,”‘ said Hinchcliffe, adding that IndyCar’s new aero kits have added another unknown as they’ve behaved differently on each course.
Hinchcliffe admitted he didn’t even consider the possibility of overtaking Newgarden on Sunday.
“Honestly, we were just kind of racing for second. We didn’t think we had anything for Josef, he just had such a hooked-up car. But in the last stop the guys made a change and our car really just came alive,” he said.
“And to be able to catch up to him and put the pass on him, even at that point, I was fully expecting a tight race because he had been so quick. I figured we’d probably pass each other a couple of times back and forth before the day was done, but ultimately we built up a cushion and we had enough room and we were able to seal the deal.”
It was a much-needed win for Hinchcliffe, who failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and sputtered to three finishes of 10th or worse in four starts since.
“It’s a huge moral boost and it justifies all the hard work we’ve put in since the Indy,” he said.
“We said from the get-go we weren’t going to let what happened in May make us lose our focus, get down or lose our motivation. If anything, it was going to motivate us more.”
He sits eighth in the points standings, 24 behind fellow Canadian and teammate Robert Wickens and 131 back of leader Scott Dixon.
Hinchcliffe hopes his victory in Iowa can inject some life into his team.
“It’s definitely going to be tough to catch the leaders, but to claw back into a solid top five, top six, from where we were in Detroit (the race following the Indy 500), that would be huge. The team’s really capable. I think we can get it done,” he said.
And he is looking forward to his first shot at doing so on the course where he feels most comfortable. Where he first fell in love with racing at 18 months old. And where he has the support of his hometown fans.
“Confidence can breed more confidence, and that can breed success,” he said.
“So it’s nice coming in off a streak of good weekends for us and, obviously, topping that off with the win. … And, just in general, it’s so great to come home. I love racing in Toronto.”