When 35 drivers took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway vying for 33 positions, nobody thought about the possibility of a big name competitor missing the Indianapolis 500 field. However, that was exactly what happened as one of the Verizon IndyCar Series most popular drivers James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify.
The disappointment could easily be seen with a glance down pit road following the session, and some pondered whether Schmidt Peterson Motorsports would buy a way-in to the field for Hinchcliffe, but that never came about.
Not taking the green flag could certainly have derailed everything moving forward, but that never happened. Instead, the positive image put off by both driver and team paid off in other ways.
“Was it good for me? No, it was terrible; it was a very dark couple of days of my life. But other than Will Power and Verizon, James Hinchcliffe and Arrow got more exposure than all the other drivers on that grid,” he told a group of reporters in Toronto. “So if there’s a silver lining, it was how we handled the situation and dealt with it as a team and move forward. There were positives – yes, it hurts me to use it but you know what I mean – out of the whole deal, and I think that’s important.
“We could’ve reacted very differently and it could’ve spun me and the team and our partners in a negative light, but I’m proud of everybody. I’m proud of how everybody carried themselves. We had a year in 2015 and came back to kick ass in 2016. So there’s nobody that’s looking forward to the 103rd running of the Indy 500 more than the 5 group.”
Certainly the weeks that followed didn’t play out as planned either, including the trip to Detroit with a pair of finishes outside of the top-10.
However, they proved that they weren’t going down without a fight at Texas Motor Speedway.
“The big one was for Texas, just going back to a superspeedway,” Hinchcliffe said. “We struggled for speed at Texas the same way we did at Indy, and honestly, Saturday at Texas was a really tough day; it was like de ja vu.”
However, throughout the sessions, he did not give up and that perseverance paid off with a fourth-place finish.
“On Saturday night, the car came alive, the team can alive in the pits, we took care of the firestones as good as anybody, and to pull off a good result like that,” he said. “Indy was a lifetime ago in our minds as we’re moving forward, not even worried about it now.”
Now with things back on-track, Hinchcliffe’s focus is solely on this weekend at Road America, where he was able to finish practice ranked 13th.
“We actually just had a productive test there, which is nice,” he said. “It worries me slightly because so far this year, all the tracks that we had abdominal tests at, we’ve had really good race weekends, so I’m kind of nervous that Road America will be a disaster now. We’ve had strong cars on the road courses – I was on the podium at Barber, and Robbie (Robert Wickens) was at the GP in Indy, so fingers crossed we can keep the streak alive.”
While missing the Indy 500 was “crushing” for his points situation given his best start in four years, it has opened up another opportunity that he plans to take full advantage of this weekend and moving forward.
“We’re no longer points racing. We can take bigger risks as a team and run split strategies as a team,” he said. “Robbie is right up there in a position where he’s doing really now. So now we’re in a position where we can go two ways – probably take the bigger risk in our car then I’m okay with that. If that means our fifth turns into a 12th, but the odd day the fifth turns into a win.
“We’re going for wins at this point, and I think that’s what is going to make the difference in our season because wins pay.”
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Categories: NTT IndyCar Series