FOCUS. STAMINA. INTENSITY.
Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe embraces ‘marathon’ hometown Toronto Indy week
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 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.