A leg injured before the start of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. A crash in the first race at Texas Motor Speedway. The passing of his father. The cancellation of his home race. A slow car in the first three days of practice for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
Could things be going any worse for James Hinchcliffe?
“As someone much wiser than me once said, it’s been a character-building year, and I’m about full-on character,” the Toronto-area native said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But Hinchcliffe is resilient in life off the track, and he believes Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport will find speed in his No. 29 Genesys Honda.
Hopefully, that’s soon.
“That’s the nature of the business,” Hinchcliffe said of the season struggles. “Unfortunately, you see these ebbs and flows in our sport, and I think every driver regardless of their level of success or tenure or whatever can point back to a season where it seemed nothing could go right, and we’re sort of living through that.
“No one’s lost motivation, no one’s lost focus on what we’re trying to do and what we’re capable of doing,” he said. “You just take it one week at a time. What happened last week doesn’t matter now. We’ve just got to stay focused.”
Hinchcliffe is 20th in the series standings with an average finish of 18.8 in the first five races. His best finish has been 17th. Keeping his spirits up: Knowing he has won six career INDYCAR races and sat on the pole for the 2016 “500.”
It took two days of practice this week at IMS for Hinchcliffe and the team to realize there was indeed something wrong with the car. If they’ve figured the problem out, it didn’t show on the speed chart Thursday. He was 32nd among the 35 car-and-driver combinations.
“We call it ‘SCS’ – Slow Car Syndrome,” he said. “Look, when you’re building these cars, the margins you’re talking about are so small, the field is so, so tight and what looks like an insurmountable amount of time or speed on the racetrack – a mile an hour or more -- in the grand scheme of lap time is hundredths of a second. It just takes that wrong combination of things to slow you down.
“But, the week’s not over. We’re now aware of (the problem). You do have to do a little bit of running to make sure that’s the case because it could be a hundred things, right? We’re pretty confident now that there’s a speed issue. We (tried) some new parts and pieces (Thursday) to see if it fits together better.”
Incident To Start Practice Leads to Penalty
Thursday’s action got off to an odd start with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing staging a slow-rolling procession of its cars running three-abreast – in photo shoot formation – coming to the Yard of Bricks on the day’s opening lap.
Behind them, cars driven by Simona De Silvestro and rookie Scott McLaughlin realized what was happening and got out of the throttle in Turn 4. But Colton Herta didn’t know what was happening, and he was surprised to come upon McLaughlin and De Silvestro so quickly while on a hot lap.
Herta had to take evasive action in a bid to avoid hitting McLaughlin, and he brushed his car off the outside wall, then made light contact with McLaughlin. Fortunately, McLaughlin had time to give him just a little extra room on the outside.
Herta was not at all pleased, saying he was going 220 mph while estimating McLaughlin and De Silvestro were going 150 mph. It was a narrow miss.
Back on pit road, McLaughlin apologized to Herta, saying he’d slowed for what appeared to be the photo shoot ahead of him. Herta accepted and appreciated that explanation, patting McLaughlin on the back as they ended their conversation.
“A little bit of a miscommunication for everybody,” McLaughlin said.
Per INDYCAR Rulebook Rule 9.3.1, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was penalized for improper conduct, and its three cars – driven by reigning “500” winner Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal and Santino Ferrucci – will not be allowed to participate in the first 30 minutes of practice Friday. Herta thought the penalty was appropriate.
“I understand what (RLL was) trying to do, but it probably wasn’t the right time and place to do it,” he said.
Odds and Ends
- Among the legends at IMS on Thursday was 1963 “500” winner Parnelli Jones, who visited the Speedway with his wife, Judy, and their sons, PJ and Page. The family spent time with several old friends, including three-time “500” winner Johnny Rutherford, who was a rookie at IMS when Jones won the race.
- Chip Ganassi caught up with Jones in the pagoda and tweeted a photograph of them together and tweeted: “I was 5 yrs (sic) old and my father brought home an 8mm film of the most recent Indianapolis 500! Parnelli won it in his Roadster. I watched that film at least 1000 times.”
- Paretta Autosport announced a current pit crew assignment list Thursday, and it included three women changing tires: Caitlyn Brown (inside front), Amanda Frayer (outside rear) and Madison Conrad (inside rear).
- JR Hildebrand had one of the day’s best quotes. On the subject of his No. 1 ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet carrying a livery similar to A.J. Foyt’s 1961 race-winning Bowes Seal Fast entry, Hildebrand told NBC’s Peacock broadcast that “it’s not going to get better (than Foyt’s). That’s the high-water mark” for results.
- Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly (No. 47 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet) was trailing Santino Ferrucci when the driver of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda lost the car’s rear end and hit the Turn 2 wall. Daly told his crew that Ferrucci had been “twitchy” in the past several trips entering that corner. His car had been twitchy, too. “Turn 2 is like an entirely different planet today,” Daly said. “It’s got to be the wind.”
- Marco Andretti had an interesting moment late in Thursday’s practice. He ended up much higher entering Turn 1 than he’d like when Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey – a teammate of sorts as the teams have a technical alliance – moving to Andretti’s inside. Andretti back out of the throttle to avoid getting into trouble.
- Driving the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, Harvey had the day’s fastest no-tow lap at 222.091 mph. His best lap was 17th overall. VeeKay had the fastest trap speed in all five of the recorded segments. He drives the No. 21 Bitcoin Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing.
- Honda drivers had nine of the fastest 12 laps Thursday.