From dominating performances on the race track to electrifying moments on the dance floor, Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe has been busier than ever as his career powers forward.
The Canadian fan-favorite and 2016 Preferred summer cover subject had an epic run on the 23rd season of the ABC-CTV hit show Dancing With the Stars. Even though he’d never done anything quite like DWTS before, his professionalism and desire for victory allowed him to earn the runner-up spot with Australian dance partner Sharna Burgess.
Hinchcliffe’s time in his Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports (SPM) racecar has also been exceptional. Just one year removed from a horrific accident during practice for the 2015 Indy 500, he scored the pole position for the 2016 Indy 500, earning a seventh place finish in the race itself. He has also taken three podium finishes during the current Indycar season, including a victory in Long Beach, a third place finish in Detroit, and another third place finish at the Honda Indy held on July 16 in Toronto.
Traditionally, the Toronto race has been a source of frustration for Hinchcliffe. Until his third place finish at the track last year, the best he’d finished was 8th. Other years included technical difficulties and other mishaps that derailed his hopes for an impressive hometown appearance.
The Toronto Indy is a legendary race itself that has existed since 1986 when it was known as the Molson Indy. The 11 turn, 2.874-kilometre track at Exhibition place is a street circuit where drivers run on the same portion of Lakeshore Boulevard that many workplace commuters hit five days a week.
“It’s always tricky qualifying here,” Hinchcliffe, the sole Canadian currently competing in Indycar, explained on the Saturday before the race, “This track is one of the those with all the surface changes.”
Competing for a good starting position is part and parcel of every race, including the Toronto Indy. Wringing every ounce of talent within his grasp, the Oakville native managed to push his Honda-powered SPM car to advance in qualifying to the final round.
“I just committed everything I had into that last lap and I snuck into the Firestone Fast Six.”
Ultimately qualifying sixth, Hinchcliffe had trepidation before the race due to the prospect of rain. Giving an interview on pit lane after Sunday’s afternoon practice, he told Preferred that his car was setup for dry conditions and explained how a street circuit in wet conditions was “just conditions and explained how a street circuit in wet conditions was “just about the most harrowing thing” that drivers had to do in Indycar racing due to the further-compromised grip.
Expectations for the race were high: The grandstands were filled with thousands of fans, with a significant number them sporting SPM gear in support of Hinchcliffe. As storm clouds beckoned, the threat of disaster loomed on the horizon. Would he be able to come through in his 101th career start?
As the race started, Hinchcliffe kept his composure on the track, while his team’s strategy yielded results. He slid into third place on the 38th lap, with only Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden leading him. As Newgarden took the win, with Rossi second, Hinchcliffe snagged third place. Later he would reveal that what he made look easy was actually a harrowing experience.
“That was probably the loosest racecar I’ve ever had on a street circuit,” he explained of the car’s handling, “It took every trick of driving racecars that I’ve ever learned to keep those guys behind me.”
With the podium finish, Hinchcliffe moves up two spots to 10th in the 2017 Indycar series standings with 297 points. With five races left on the calendar, he has a chance to continue to climb the rankings.
Four-time Indycar series champion Scott Dixon of Chip-Ganassi racing currently leads the standings, but what makes the Indycar series so special is the excellent competition. No matter what the outfit, drivers race against each other in cars that can end up winning races by the tiniest of margins. Winners can also come from any team, as 40 year-old Japanese driver Takuma Sato demonstrated with his shocking victory at this year’s Indy 500 in Indianapolis.
As much as he’s given to Indycar, he has put out feelers regarding the prospect of competing elsewhere, such as NASCAR’s Xfinity series.
“I have always wanted to try it and a road course is the best way to ease into it,” said Hinchcliffe, speaking to The Toronto Star’s Jeff Pappone, “We want to do it right but it’s not something I am looking at in anticipation of a career switch.”
The transition from open-wheel racecars to stock cars is something that many Indycar drivers have undertaken, including Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart. Success in a different racing format is hard to attain, but for a driver who is always willing to challenge themselves, the risk is worth the effort. James Hinchcliffe himself does make clear that he’s still completely committed to his dream in Indycar.
It’s incredible that James Hinchcliffe has gone from being an autograph-seeking fan chasing heroes like Greg Moore, Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani to becoming the sought-after one. Despite his huge following, he always tries to give his fans the best possible experience because he knows how much of an impact his own heroes had on him when he was a youngster.
The defining truth about James Hinchcliffe is that he’s always evolving in his quest to win the recognition that comes from hard-fought races. He’s now approaching a peak in terms of his experience, recognition and acumen. And we keep turning the page to see what he will do next.
His best may be yet to come.
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