James Douglas Meredith Hinchcliffe, 34, of Oakville, Ont., a.k.a. “Hinch,” and sometimes “the Mayor,” of Zionsville, Ind., has raced in eight Indianapolis 500s during his 10-year IndyCar career and just about everything has happened to him except winning the biggest and most prestigious auto race in the world.
He'll be taking the green flag at noon Sunday for his ninth kick at the can and figures he’s due.
He’s one of two Canadians among 33 drivers who’ll fire up for the start of the 105th renewal of the U.S. Memorial Day classic, Dalton Kellett (yep, plain old two-name Dalton Kellett) of Stouffville being the other. Kellett is a child of 27 compared to Hinchcliffe’s more mature 34, and has some time to make his mark in the NTT IndyCar Series and the 500; Hinch, face it friends, is running out of time, which is another reason he’ll be holding nothing back in Indiana Sunday afternoon.
He’s started on the three-car front row three times, the last row once and his best finish has been sixth. He hit the wall during a practice run in 2015 and came within a thimbleful of bleeding to death. He came back the next year and won the pole, which had to have been one of the greatest comebacks in auto racing history, beaten only, perhaps, by F1 driver Robert Kubica, who survived a devastating crash in the Canadian Grand Prix in 2007 and returned to Montreal the following year to win the race.
Two years after winning the pole, Hinchcliffe suffered one of the most devastating defeats of his career when he failed to qualify for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It was embarrassing beyond belief (right up there with losing his ride), but he took it like the trooper he is, and he’s made the field ever since. He’ll start 16th Sunday, on the inside of the sixth (of 11) rows.
“Our qualifying (last Saturday) was a one (attempt) and done,” he said about his four laps at speed that was not available on television in Canada (Norris note: Let’s hear it, again, for Sportsnet). “When I first finished, we were sitting 14th and the track was getting pretty hot and nobody was going any faster, so I just sat there.
“(I was) kind of bummed to lose a couple of positions there in the dying minutes. We (his employers at Andretti Autosport) thought about going back out but we had a good place to start. We can definitely race from there.”
Hinchcliffe has a plan in place to both win the race and to go about doing it.
“The goal is always to be within striking distance with 50 (laps, of 200) to go. You want to be part of that last pit sequence and on pace with the leaders. Good restarts and some good pit stops and some good strategy can get it done, so long as you’re in a position to do it. You just have to stay on top of it.
“And how do you stay on top of it? I’m going back to what every veteran told me in my rookie year (2011) and that’s when they preached patience, patience, patience. One year, when we started on the last row, we just picked off cars here and there. Before you knew it. I was in the top ten and that will be the same philosophy this Sunday.
“It’s still tricky to pass when you’re the last car in the train. IndyCar has added some aero bits that have definitely made the racing better and I think it’s going to be a better show. But when you’re back in the pack, it’s about minimizing mistakes, executing on pit lane and just being patient.
“What’s unique about this race is we’ve seen crazy strategies and crazy results at the end of the day and quite literally anybody who’s in the race has a shot at winning it. All any of us are thinking about is winning that race.”
Which includes Kellett. Of course, his adventure just getting into the race last Saturday, which nobody in Canada saw legally (Norris note: Let’s hear it, again, for Sportsnet), was just about as exciting as any race could be. He was cool as a cucumber but, in so many words, had to bump himself out of the race in order to set a new qualifying time that would ensure his position to stay in the race.
“I think it was more stressful for everyone out of the car,” Kellett said about the last-minute histrionics. “I was strapped in and ready to go for 45 minutes or so and most of the chatter about strategy was over the Intercom.
"I was only tapped into the radio so wasn’t 100 per cent involved in everything that was being said; you were just getting snippets of it and so, really, I just focused and got ready for the run.
“I was completely confident that I’d make it. All I was told by Larry (Foyt, who runs A.J. Foyt Racing, which employs Kellett) ) was to keep my foot in it and finish the run, Even if I had a bad first lap – I didn’t but – I was still to finish the run. So I just treated it as just another qualifying run. I had a little moment in Turn Two but I was able to gather it up and keep running and I got locked in.”
Kellett had a bit of a fright when he got out of the car.
“The scoring pylon hadn’t been updated and showed me in 31st place (meaning he would be one of five drivers who would have to try again to fill one of three places remaining) but then they said over the PA that I was 30th, so I felt a lot better.”
Kellett was moving toward the front last year when he crashed but he learned what this race is all about.
“I think we have a car that can compete,” he said. “We can make passes but it’s going to be hard to break through the mid-pack on speed alone. We will need yellows (to fall) at the right time. I think we can get into the Top Twenty; the Top Fifteen would be great for us. It’s just so competitive.”
Which is as it should be.
Some Ontario racing series are releasing revised schedules. The APC Late Model Championship will go Friday, July 2, at Delaware Speedway outside London. The APC has eight races on the schedule, winding up Sat., Sept. 25, again at Delaware. Meantime, the Quick Wick Super Series will also start its season July 2 at Delaware and wind up its five-race season Sept. 25, also at Delaware. Other speedways involved include Sunset, Sauble, Flamboro and Peterborough. The Action Sprint Tour (crate engines) remains on pause, as does the Knights of Thunder 360 Sprint Car Tour. Officials from both series are optimistic, however, of starting their seasons soon.
FEL Motorsports has entered into an agreement with Joel Robinson’s motorsport production house Fuel MediaLab to produce three one-hour programs of races in the Sports Car Championship Canada presented by Michelin and the FEL Cup Canada presented by Michelin that will air in both of Canada’s official languages. The series will also be showcased to American viewers on the MAVTV network. The English talent crew will consist of Dave Bradley (play by play), Kyle Marcelli (colour) and Todd Lewis (pits). The RDS French language crew will be hosted by Dominic Fugère and JF Dumoulin. TSN and RDS are the industry motorsport leaders in Canada while MAVTV is the exclusive motorsport network in the United States. Both FEL championships will start their season at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park during the VARAC Vintage Grand Prix weekend June 18-20.
Nissan Canada and JD Promotion & Compétition today unveiled the revised schedule for the 2021 Nissan Sentra Cup. The original schedule has been altered after event cancellations were announced due to the pandemic. The new schedule still includes six events with two races each weekend. The series, which features the all-new Nissan Sentra, will kick off on June 25-27 at Shannonville Motorsport Park near Belleville.
Norris McDonald / Special to Wheels.ca
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