By: Ashley McCubbin
After taking a step back and running a partial NTT IndyCar Series schedule last season, fans are going to get used to seeing James Hinchcliffe in 2021 as he returns full-time.
“I mean, it’s a dream come true in so many ways,” he said. “It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people certainly. I love telling the story, we talked a lot about this last year when we did our three-race deal. It was two months from an Instagram message to signing a deal with Genesys. For a company to move that quickly in this kind of program was unbelievable. They took it a step further by sponsoring the race in Texas. You talked about all the activation on the 500. Now to jump up with a 10-race deal, it’s incredible.”
Hinchcliffe showcased his ability with Andretti Autosport last year, posting a seventh-place finish in the Indianapolis 500, and it is no stranger to see them paired together for a full schedule. After all, he spent four seasons with them before moving to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2015.
The Canadian campaigned the No. 5 entry for four years, before ultimately seeing his tenure cut short as a result of the team changing their vision with a youthful driver line-up.
While he had success with Sam Schmidt, it could easily be argued Andretti Autosport was a better fit for him. His winningest season came in 2013 with three trips to victory lane, and his best points finish of eighth came twice – 2012 and 2013. In the four years that followed, he won twice with his highest final standings placing being 10th in 2018.
“The culture in the team is just phenomenal,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s something that I just really took to when I first started driving there in 2012. That starts at the top with Michael (Andretti). He’s built an incredible organization. The record speaks for itself.
“Just the atmosphere in the shop, the way we go racing, it just suits me I think as a person. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible teammates there. I certainly think the bigger team, having four cars, these limited race weekends, and they’re getting smaller, thanks, COVID, another thing that’s made for us, less track time on race weekends. That program really does help.”
Hinchcliffe went on to say he feels AA will be best fit to take advantage of the shortened practice weekends, due to everybody working together with an “open book” policy as all team members take part in debriefs.
“I’ve had the most experience working with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) certainly,” Hinchcliffe said of his teammatse. “But I know Alex(ander Rossi) personally very well. Colton (Herta) is probably the one I spend the least time around. Even of the races we did, he’s a great help. He’s quiet, to the point, kind of gets in and gets the job done. He knows a lot about racecars and how to make them go fast. I think on any given weekend that could shift who your best ally is, whoever is hitting it the best on that weekend.”
With all the puzzle pieces laid before him, and knowing the past success, it’s easy to understand entering each weekend, Hinchcliffe’s mindset will be focused on getting the victory.
“I think if you look back at the way Andretti Autosport improved over the 2020 season, it’s no secret that it was a little bit of a struggle the first part of the year,” he added. “But the last half of that season the team really came on strong and the cars were really competitive. I think that gave us a lot of positive momentum going into the off-season.
“There’s nothing stopping us from saying we should be running up front right from the drop of the green flag at Barber. Podium, race wins, I’d love to see all the cars up there running with a shot at the championship with three or four rounds to go.”
Also being able to keep a positive mindset no matter of the hurtles will be helpful, and Hinchcliffe has proven to be able to do that already on many occasions, despite the hurtles of his career to date. Even being out of the car last year, he took it in stride by taking in the events, and seeing things that perhaps he missed while in the cockpit.
“Every time something like that happens, I think in an athlete’s career you can take it one of two ways. You can look at the negative, we’re not doing this, I couldn’t do this, not that, or you try to focus on the positives that come out of it,” he commented. “I definitely had a different program in 2020 than I was hoping for, but really enjoyed my time working with NBC and all the talent there. Everybody was phenomenal to work with.
“I definitely did learn some things that I think we can apply for next year and definitely helped me continue my growth pattern with the team and just being able to hit the ground running in the first race.”
Categories: NTT IndyCar Series