By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
INDIANAPOLIS – James Hinchcliffe is aiming for a return to form for today’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The 30-year-old Canadian came out swinging by collecting a win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He very well could have been the first driver to collect multiple wins this season if not for an ill-timed caution that came out while leading in the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, and ended the afternoon ninth.
However, the wave of momentum of three consecutive top 10 finishes came to a halt at the last round on the 1-mile oval in the desert, Phoenix International Raceway.
Currently sitting fifth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings and 39 points off leader and defending champion Simon Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe’s expectations have been raised much like his performance this year.
Indianapolis could be viewed as bittersweet for the 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year after a suspension failure led to an accident during practice two years ago at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval in which he suffered near-fatal injuries.
Despite all that, Hinchcliffe would rebound strong in his return to the historic track, scoring a podium last year at the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course to kickstart a stout month of May at the Brickyard that included a pole, 27 laps led en route to a seventh place finish in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver knows it’s the perfect place to regain momentum.
Hinchcliffe, a five-time IndyCar race winner, put down the sixth best time in combined practice sessions on Friday at 1:08.6391 (127.921 mph) and narrowly missed out on the Firestone Fast Six, qualifying 10th on the grid.
Despite some stout pace, it deceived what was a tough day overall for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports squad.
“I mean, tomorrow is going to be a long day, no doubt,” said Hinchcliffe, the 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year. “We’ve rolled off with the worst Friday that we’ve had all season. Unfortunately, the car is not where we need it to be. The (Firestone) tires changed quite a bit, the front tires changed quite a bit from last year. It’s forced us to kind of blow our setups up.
“We just haven’t had it and with the compressed schedule like what we had today, we haven’t had enough time to go through everything and get a good grasp on it all. Hopefully, we’ve got a good night to sleep on it, take a little bit of a closer look at everything and come up with a plan because right now the thing is a handful.
“We qualified 10th and I was saving my life out there. That’s just not something you can afford to do in a series that is this competitive. So, we’ll put our heads down and try to put on a good show.”
Friday marked the first official day of on track action for the stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series and with it the buzz of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” that comes on May 28. Hichcliffe is no exception to the electricity and the hope of being the next face on the Borg-Warner Trophy.
“Everybody is excited about May,” said Hinchcliffe. ”You know, every time we pull in the Speedway at the beginning of the month, it’s high hopes and dreams for everybody. We’re all on a level playing field right now. Until we hit the track Monday for practice we won’t know where everybody stacks up. But we are coming off a good month last year. The technical regulations are pretty similar.
“So hopefully that means the No. 5 car will be strong.”