BE­ING HOME­TOWN FAVOURITE HAS ITS DRAW­BACKS

‘Seven-day cir­cus’ for Hinch­cliffe lead­ing up to Toronto Indy writes Ian Shantz

Windsor Star - - SPORTS - Is­hantz@post­media.com twit­ter.com/IanShantz

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 es­cape to Muskoka for a few much-needed 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 sev­en­day 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 Iowa Corn 300 — the same oval­track 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 all-Cana­dian 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 walk­through. An on-site ap­pear­ance for Honda as part of an NHL pro­mo­tion fol­lowed, and Hinch­cliffe’s night was spent at an an­nual cancer fundraiser 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 un­der­way, Hinch­cliffe be­gan 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 sin­gle-seater 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.”

DAVE ABEL

As the lo­cal favourite head­ing into Sunday’s 32nd Toronto Honda Indy Clas­sic, it’s been a cir­cus for Indycar driver James Hinch­cliffe with all the de­mands on his time.

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