Oakville’s James Hinch­cliffe em­braces ‘marathon’ home­town Toronto Indy week

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - IAN SHANTZ

And for James Hinch­cliffe, that’s what’s needed to just get through the hec­tic week lead­ing up to the Toronto Indy:

James Hinch­cliffe might be faster on his phone than he is in his race car.

“It might even be on my cal­en­dar still. Let me see,” the IndyCar star said when asked for a Coles Notes run­down of his big­gest pro­mo­tional week of the year, his home­town Honda Indy Toronto.

“Yep, sure is,” Hinch­cliffe said upon lo­cat­ing his agenda from last July on his phone in fewer than 10 sec­onds dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view at a down­town steak­house. “No, no wait. Oh, yeah, no, yep, yep, all right, so …”

To say Indy week is a busy one for the Cana­dian Hinch­cliffe, an eight-year Ver­i­zon IndyCar Se­ries vet­eran, is a bit like sug­gest­ing the sun is warm. It’s an un­der­state­ment of epic pro­por­tions.

The 31-year-old Oakville na­tive’s prepa­ra­tions for Toronto be­gin around April and the work doesn’t re­ally stop un­til the Mon­day fol­low­ing Canada’s lone Indy race week­end, when Hinch­cliffe and his fam­ily make it a point to es­cape to Muskoka for a few much­needed days of R&R at the cot­tage.

Just how busy can things get for Canada’s most well-known race-car driver this week? Con­sider that Hinch­cliffe op­er­ates in what he calls “15-minute blocks” through­out his per­sonal seven-day cir­cus that is the Toronto Indy. The sched­ule is in­tense.

Last year’s tem­plate saw Hinch­cliffe jet out of Iowa — home of the won­der­fully named the Iowa Corn 300, the same oval-track race his won last week­end — first thing on the Mon­day morn­ing the week of the Toronto event, land­ing in his home city in time to do a cou­ple of ra­dio in­ter­views later in the day, along with some pro­mo­tional phone in­ter­views for a now-de­funct Septem­ber race at Watkins Glen, N.Y. (this year, he was in Hamil­ton on Mon­day night along with team­mate Robert Wick­ens for a go-kart fundraiser to ben­e­fit Make-A-Wish Canada).

On Tues­day, it’s more phone in­ter­views in the morn­ing be­fore Hinch­cliffe, who drives the No. 5 Honda for al­lCana­dian team Sch­midt Peter­son Mo­tor­sports, heads up to the Honda Canada cam­pus in Markham for an em­ployee and as­so­ciate ap­pre­ci­a­tion day.

“That’s one of those kind of sta­ple things: Tues­day, every year,” Hinch­cliffe said, adding that his day con­cluded with a visit to Sport­snet HQ for some TV and ra­dio spots.

On Wed­nes­day last year, it was over to Petro Canada’s of­fices in his home­town of Oakville, fol­lowed by an­other spon­sor event for a few more hours, then a per­sonal ap­pear­ance for New Era at the Lids store in the Ea­ton Cen­tre.

An in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press opened Thurs­day’s pro­ceed­ings, fol­lowed by an Ar­row spon­sor ap­pear­ance at the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto in Mis­sis­sauga, then a meet-and-greet on pit lane, be­fore an engi­neer­ing meet­ing and a track walk-through. An on-site ap­pear­ance for Honda as part of an NHL pro­mo­tion fol­lowed, and Hinch­cliffe’s night was spent at an an­nual can­cer fund-raiser in the Dis­tillery Dis­trict he co-hosted along­side fel­low racer Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Fi­nally, on Fri­day in Toronto with his team or­ga­nized in the pad­dock and prac­tice ses­sions un­der way, Hinch­cliffe be­gins to set­tle into more of a typ­i­cal race week­end. There is some added home­town em­pha­sis on spon­sor meet-and-greets, how­ever, es­sen­tially squeez­ing in any pro­mo­tional

ap­pear­ances he can when he’s not round­ing the street course at top seed.

“If I’m not in the race car or in engi­neer­ing, I’m some­where, do­ing some­thing,” Hinch­cliffe said.

Prac­tice ses­sions and qual­i­fy­ing take up most of Satur­day, and the sen­sa­tion that greets the Canuck driver when he’s fi­nally in his sin­gle­seater and the green flag drops on Sun­day af­ter­noon is not a sur­pris­ing one all things con­sid­ered.

“Re­lief,” Hinch­cliffe said. “Hon­estly, a lot of time we’re so ex­cited to get in the car, be­cause that’s kind of our peace and quiet. It sounds crazy, but that’s why we do all the other stuff, is to get to go do that. It’s you, your race car and your en­gi­neer in your ear, and you just get to go do your thing.”

Hinch­cliffe says ex­pe­ri­ence has al­lowed him to be a “lit­tle bit more hands-off” in Toronto than he was ear­lier in his ca­reer, but ul­ti­mately he has a heavy in­flu­ence into what his T.O. race week looks like each year.

“I still have my fin­ger on the pulse of what’s com­ing in, kind of tran­spir­ing,” he said, adding, “every day is like run­ning a marathon. Get­ting through that with still enough en­ergy and still enough fo­cus to do your job on the race week­end is a huge chal­lenge, but like I said, I’ve got a great team of peo­ple around me and they’ve def­i­nitely helped man­age that.”

The hard work doesn’t al­ways pay off. Hinch­cliffe failed to qual­ify for the In­di­anapo­lis 500 in May, a night­mare sce­nario that no full-time Indy racer should ever have to en­dure. But lately there has been clear suc­cess. Hinch­cliffe, who cap­tured the sec­ond oval-race vic­tory of his ca­reer in Iowa last Sun­day — his first win of the sea­son and sixth of his ca­reer — comes into the week­end brim­ming with con­fi­dence, es­pe­cially hav­ing reached the podium in back-to-back Toronto Indys fol­low­ing some less-thanstel­lar per­for­mances over the years in Toronto.

“There was a run­ning joke for so many years that this was al­ways just go­ing to be a bad week­end be­cause we just never seemed to have good luck here,” Hinch­cliffe said. “We’ve had some good luck and some good cars the last few years and so it’s kind of helped get the mon­key off our back which was nice. In some ways it takes the pres­sure off be­cause we have had a few good re­sults and we know that this race isn’t just out to get me any more. But on the other hand it does kind of add the pres­sure. All right, we’ve been on the podium, but now we want to be at the top of the podium.”

In­deed, the op­por­tu­nity to be­come the first Cana­dian to win an Indy race on home soil since Paul Tracy (1993, 2003) is not lost on Hinch­cliffe.

“I drive with so much pride for my coun­try and I’m so thank­ful for all the sup­port that I’ve had from every­body in Toronto and across Canada since the day I stepped in at IndyCar,” he said. “I’m a huge stu­dent of the sport and the his­tory of Cana­di­ans in this se­ries is a rich one. I’ve al­ways wanted to do that his­tory proud and not let it down. Al­ways give Cana­di­ans some­one to cheer for.

“Through good years and bad years the sup­port has al­ways been un­wa­ver­ing and it makes me that much more com­mit­ted to giv­ing them good re­sults and giv­ing them some­thing to cheer for,” he added. “A win here? Every year that goes by, that builds, it re­ally does. If that win ever comes one day, that’ll be the best day of my ca­reer, no doubt.”

If I’m not in the race car or in engi­neer­ing, I’m some­where, do­ing some­thing.

James Hinch­cliffe



James Hinch­cliffe passes in front of Princes’ Gate dur­ing yes­ter­day’s first prac­tice ses­sion for the Toronto Indy.


James Hinch­cliffe takes part in the Honda Indy Toronto wel­come news con­fer­ence on Thurs­day. Be­low, Hinch­cliffe cel­e­brates with the Cana­dian flag af­ter win­ning the Iowa Corn 300 last week­end.

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