James Hinchcliffe has spent the last few weeks searching for the elusive reset button. And it’s needed, especially after Andretti Steinbrenner’s favorite Canadian race car driver has endured a punishing full-time return to the NTT IndyCar Series.
A terrible qualifying session at Barber had Hinchcliffe starting 24th and last after getting stuck in a gravel trap. He climbed to 17th by the checkered flag. A solid recovery at St. Petersburg had Hinch holding 12th after qualifying, but a clash with a passing Takuma Sato left the No. 29 with a broken wheel and a drop to 18th at the finish line. The first of two Texas races continued in the wrong direction after a P20 start worsened to a P23 result when a pass by Felix Rosenqvist in Turn 1 ended with Hinchcliffe sliding up the track and hitting the wall. Forced to a backup car for the next race, a start of P22 and finish of 18th came after Hinchcliffe’s entry was retired due to mechanical problems.
As the Indy Grand Prix beckons this weekend and the Indy 500 looms on the horizon on May 30, Hinchcliffe dreams of a reboot. Holding 19th in the championship, maintaining morale has been an important part of the 34-year-old’s efforts to keep the program from running aground.
“Honestly, a lot of it starts with the type of team around you,” Hinchcliffe told RACER. “And, you know, I’m very fortunate that I’ve got a great group of people in my immediate vicinity. And the guys on the team, we’re very much in this together. We’ve looked at each and every race so far, and there are things that I could have done differently and better. And there are things that as a team, we could have done differently and better. And there were things that were just pure, good old-fashioned bad luck. It just seems they’ve all congregated together at once, over these couple of weekends.
“But the motivation of the team is still really high. It’s still a new group working together, so there was always going to be a couple moments of starting to gel together and going through teething problems. But we also have a lot of belief and trust in each other. And we actually all went out last night as a group and had a little ‘blow off some steam’ kind of evening, putting that first stretch behind us, and that just keep it focused on things we can control going forward.”
More than 150 points are available across the GP and Indy 500. Hinchcliffe needs 109 just to draw even with championship leader Scott Dixon prior to Saturday’s race. And two of his three teammates – Alexander Rossi in 15th and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 17th – face similar needs for a big turnaround if they want to enter the title hunt. Getting it done in May would make life easier for the trio, but the six-time race winner knows that playing the long game is the smarter approach to making a rebound.
“When you are where you are in the points as the three of us do after the first four races, you focus more broadly on the fact that, hey, there’s still 13 races to go,” Hinchcliffe said. “And with Indy being double points, there’s still a ton of opportunities to make good on the potential that we’ve all got. May always carries its own importance and significance, but it also pays points just like anywhere else. And so as cliche as it sounds, I think your mindset has to be about taking in one event at a time and knowing that we can get there.
“It’s chipping away at it and not thinking that we have to sweep the month of May, get 150 points, or else. We don’t have to be up there by June 1. But you’ve got to be there by September 1. And so doing what you have to do to put yourself in that position, I think, is the key right now.”