This weekend’s St. Petersburg Grand Prix will mark Hinchcliffe’s first race in 10 months.
“I’ve been testing, and it’s been great, but you can only drive around by yourself for so long before you’re missing that competition,” he told POPULAR OPEN WHEEL. “As much fun as we have driving IndyCars, if it was driving around by yourself or racing go-karts with 12 of the best drivers, you’d race go-karts. Obviously excited to head into St. Pete this weekend and be able to get back to that experience.”
A sense of confidence radiates from Hinchcliffe, which is no surprise since he earned his first career victory on the streets of Florida
“We’ve been doing a lot of testing during the offseason, a lot of work as Honda is trying to close the gap to our competitors, and I think they’ve been doing a tremendous job,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we won’t know till we know.”
It’s for that reason that he heads into this weekend with an open mind and no expectations.
“I think until we get to St. Pete and see how the manufacturers stack up against each other and the teams have developed over the offseason – it’s just so tough to try and put a goal, an expectation on that,” he admitted. “Certainly hoping that we’re at the sharp end of the grid, but we won’t know until we get there.”
Last year, Honda looked to be a step behind Chevrolet as the Bowtie dominated, winning 11 of the 16 races. Honda has gone to work during the offseason developing new aero kits for the cars.
“They deserve a ton of credit on that, not just the kits, but the engine has been developed a lot as well,” Hinchcliffe commented. “That’s what a lot of people forgot last year – there’s actually two engines as well. The body kits dominated the discussion, but I think as we move closer to our competitors on the body kit level, the engine is going to come back in the discussion a lot more. I think we made some good gains there.
“I know some of the updates that are coming throughout the season, and am already excited about those, so I give Honda a lot of credit. They made some personnel adjustments over the offseason, and kind of took responsibilities away from some and put them on others. I think it’s been a positive change.”
For Hinchcliffe, the excitement goes beyond St. Petersburg to the rest of the schedule, as there are several events on his radar. He’s looking forward to Toronto in July and said it was tough missing the race last year. He also anticipates the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, getting back to Road America and seeing the streets of Boston for the first time.
“IndyCar has such diversity in their tracks, and that’s what I love about it,” he said. “You’ll do a couple street courses in a row and go, ‘I can’t wait to get back to an oval’. Then you’ll do two ovals in a row and go, ‘Man, I can’t wait to hit the brakes and turn right again’. It always keeps you wanting the next thing. Honestly, they’re so different, but I love them both for different reasons.”
He didn’t start out as a fan of the ovals, though, and confessed disliking them after running his first oval event in 2009.
“I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t like them at first. In fact, I hated them,” he said. “I wasn’t good at them, and as I went through my second year of Lights, I started to do well and enjoyed them.
“Now, whatever track we’re heading into on a Thursday, that’s what I like the best.”
The ability to be successful is something he looks forward to, especially with all the support he’s received over the past couple of months.
“The whole Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew has been awesome, so supportive through this thing and all the testing, so we’re all excited to get back to racing,” he said. “Everybody over these past 10 months has been supportive. It would’ve been easy to say he’s damaged goods or won’t do well in the car, but we’ve had tremendous support across the board from all of our partners. Just excited to try and repay that support with some good finishes.”
Getting back behind the wheel was always the focus for Hinchcliffe, from the moment he woke up following the accident.
“When I woke up in the hospital, I was on a ventilator and had to communicate via pen and paper,” he recalled. “The third question that I asked was ‘When can I get back in the car?’ It was infuriating to the doctors because ‘We just put you back together, you just woke up, and you already are trying to get back into the machine that did this to you. What is wrong with you?’
“The answer is I’m a racer. There’s something wrong with all of us. I was set on getting back from day one.”
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