The inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana winner was medically ruled out of competing in the Indianapolis 500.
James Hinchcliffe was practicing earlier this week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after qualifying for the 24th position out of 33 when a piece of the right front suspension failed, sending Hinchcliffe into the wall at over 225 mph.
A piece of the suspension then went through his right leg and pierced his left leg, making his being extricated from the cockpit even more of a challenge than it normally is after an accident. It also didn’t help that it was a bleeding injury that, if not treated fast enough, could have caused his passing.
The injury was enough to require surgery to his left thigh. Hinchcliffe was in ICU for three days before being transferred to a normal hospital room at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. He is scheduled to make a full recovery.
Replacing Hinchcliffe is 2012 Indianapolis 500 polesitter Ryan Briscoe. Formerly of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, Briscoe was without a ride for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series before this opportunity came along.
Team owner Sam Schmidt was thrilled with the prospect of having Briscoe join the team, especially with the fact that some of the more complicated parts of the equation were already taken care of.
“He was already licensed [by INDYCAR], he already had a seat, he fits in the [driver’s] suitperfectly. We had enough complicating factors without having those be complicating factors,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt also said that Hinchcliffe was glad that the team continued on with their plans to run.
“One of the first things James asked me Tuesday was, ‘You’re going to race, right?’ and I said ‘Absolutely, we’re racers, we have to go on,’ and he agreed with that and then ‘Who’s going to drive,’ and I said ‘I think it’ll probably be Ryan,’ and he said it was an excellent choice,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt knows about the dangerous side of motorsports. In 1998 he hit the wall during the Indianapolis 500 in a five car accident. He became a quadriplegic after a testing accident at Walt Disney World in January of 2000, so he knows the dark side of the sport.
A New Team Dynamic
Joining a new environment is never easy in sports, especially only 72 hours before the start of the biggest single day sporting event in the world, but Briscoe was up for the challenge.
“I actually know a number of the mechanics on the team. There’s just a wealth of experience there, that makes me comfortable,” Briscoe said.
However, it wasn’t just a new situation for Hinchcliffe, Briscoe and Schmidt. The team had three drivers for the Month of May with Conor Daly and James Jakes alongside Hinchcliffe.
Daly, a second generation driver, has run in the 500 once before, but welcomes the new teammate to the Schmidt Peterson stable.
“Ryan is extremely experienced and has driven for the best teams in the sport. He knows a lot, so I think it’s not a challenge for us, it doesn’t upset us at all,” Daly said.
Jakes had driven in IndyCar previously, racing from 2011-2013 before a sabbatical season led to him driving in 2015. He was glad about Briscoe joining the team.
“Ryan’s obviously a very good driver and we’re welcoming him on board and look forward to working together,” Jakes said.
One of the possible big issues for the team would be setting up the car for Briscoe, but Jakes said this might not be as big of an issue as it could be.
“Between the [three cars], 80 percent of the setup is the same, 20 percent of the car is different and generally I’d say that’s across the board on all the teams because drivers just like little different things.”
“It doesn’t change the 7 car’s side of the garage because we’ve been here for a while now,” Jakes said.
Briscoe was given a one hour shakedown run in the car on Thursday with the new aerodynamic specification for 2015.
The 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 will air on ABC starting at 10:00 AM with the pre-race show. The green flag waves at 11:15 AM.