INDYCAR continues our celebration of the 12 days of Christmas with 12 of the most memorable storylines from the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Coming off a year where breathtaking passes were made at each of the 18 races, James Hinchcliffe’s successful threading of the needle to open the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio could be the most memorable of them all.
The Canadian defied the odds in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda as he improved nine positions in a single, prolonged passing maneuver into and through Turn 4, which serves as “Turn 1” for the start of the 90-lap road course classic.
Starting 17th, the “Mayor of Hinchtown” ruled the braking zone entering Turn 4, swept past numerous cars, and continued passing as the field turned right towards the uphill Turn 5 lefthander. With a multi-car crash happening in front of him between Turns 4 and 5, Hinchcliffe picked up more positions.
Taking everything he gained at the start and the rest that came his way, the No. 27 was classified in sixth place at the end of the first lap. For Hinchcliffe, opportunity met luck and skill on Lap 1 to the point where it felt like the 28-year-old’s car was thrown into a video game with an invisible force field protecting every move.
“I mean, it ranks pretty high among the coolest things that have happened in a racecar, I won’t lie,” said Hinchcliffe, who will drive for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports next season. “It was just funny because we had such a quick car and then we got caught out in qualifying. I remember going into the race thinking, ‘there has to be something good to happen here today or else...’
“I would say that in that particular occurrence, passing all of those cars probably shouldn’t have worked, and nine times out of 10 it probably wouldn’t have worked, but I was hyper motivated that day. And the racing gods cooperated!”
In-car footage showed Hinchcliffe was in a high-risk situation throughout the ordeal. Going around a string of cars on the outside would have been safer, but the opportunity to make up lost ground was provided by splitting the field as cars on the left and right of the No. 27 narrowed the gap he occupied. As Hinchcliffe recalls, being the meat in an IndyCar sandwich made for a harrowing experience.
“I was stuck in the middle of the racetrack,” he explained. “There was one car in front of me, Mikhail Aleshin in the 7 car, he moved to the outside and it was almost like the parting of the sea. There was a golden path right down the middle. I knew it was a bit of a risk but everybody was braking and I kind of looked left and I looked right and I thought about it for a second, and I thought, nah, I’m not going to brake in yet. I had to chuck it in there.
“The mayhem unfolding up front checked up the inside line and boxed out the outside line, so a lot of them went onto the grass. I was in the right place at the right time to avoid the carnage and came out on top.”
In honor of the first car that opened up the door to start the epic passing spree, and the car that was at the heart of the crash that added more victim’s to his tally, Hinchcliffe came up with a perfect name for his Mid-Ohio move: the 7-10 Split.
“It was a lot like a bowling move where I first got Aleshin in the 7, and Kanaan was the other big car I had to get past, and he was in the 10 car, so yeah, the “7-10 Split” works for me,” he said with a laugh.
“It really did take the perfect combination of the racetrack section I wanted being open, the guys around me giving just enough room, and the incident upfront slowing people down. If I have it just like that again, I know what the outcome would be, but it is very unlikely to have it quite like that ever again.”