BEING HOMETOWN FAVOURITE HAS ITS DRAWBACKS
‘Seven-day circus’ for Hinchcliffe leading up to Toronto Indy writes Ian Shantz
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.”
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.