While A1 Team Canada's James Hinchcliffe spent Thursday in The Netherlands learning to Blokart, otherwise known as windsurfing on sand, part of the scheduled media day ahead of Round 1 of the 2007-08 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport at Circuit Park Zandvoort, Sunday 30th September, the 20-year-old from Toronto found time to field some questions regarding Canada's build up to the new season of A1GP.
Q: You made your A1GP race debut at Zandvoort last season, are you happy the new season kicks off at the same track and how important is your experience from last year's event?
James Hinchcliffe (JH): "I'm thrilled to be going back to Zandvoort. There's such a great atmosphere there and it's such a cool event it's a really positive way for A1GP to kick off a new season. From a personal point of view I really enjoy the track and I think we've got the potential to be up there at the sharp-end based on both my own performances there last season and the form we've shown in pre-season testing. Nobody's getting the benefit of running in the 'Rookie' session this year at Zandvoort as there isn't one so my track time from last year's event should prove to be advantageous over some of the new guys lining up on the grid."
Q: What are your expectations for the new season?
JH: "Well I'm expecting things to be even more competitive this season than it was last year and that's really saying something given how close everything was then. From what we've already seen in pre-season testing, the lap times were extremely close and there's probably ten nations all capable of winning races heading into Zandvoort.
"Overall I think it's going to be an incredibly hard championship this year. I think we've got pretty good pace right now and we're focused on going to Zandvoort and having a good solid event and starting off the year with a decent points haul. We're a new team this year so it's important that we learn quickly how everyone likes to work, everything else will hopefully fall into place after that!"
Q: With a new team operating A1 Team Canada, what are the challenges faced?
JH: "Well this is a team sport so there's no getting away from the need for good chemistry between the team members, the drivers and so on -- it's incredibly important. Trust is obviously something that you have to build so with a new team the first challenge is to get to know everyone and how we like to go about things. So far it's been a positive experience and the guys on the team have worked really hard in pre-season testing and they've done a good job.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how everything comes together on a race weekend now. There are still a few kinks to be ironed out but that's to be expected with a new operation. That said, given how little time the unit's had to gel, we were pretty competitive at Silverstone so once we've got a few race starts under our belt we should be right up there."
Q: How successful was your pre-season test program?
JH: "The first two-day test in August we knew would be a bit of a compromise in terms of it being the very first time we'd all worked together. It was really more of a team building exercise and obviously from my perspective it was the first time back in an A1GP car since March so I had to blow the cob-webs off and get reacquainted with everything. We probably struggled a little bit in terms of pace but it was a chance for us to start growing together as a team.
"Last week's final test run at Silverstone was good in as much as there was more familiarity with everything and that produced results on-track as we were ninth fastest on the Tuesday from the 22 nations there. I'm really comfortable with the car now, it was a bit of a handful when I first drove it in August but John (Booth) and Simon (Cayzer) have done a really good job to give me something I'm happy with. Now we have to see how everything clicks over the course of a race weekend as there's no more testing and we won't know where we're at with that until after this weekend."
Q: What, if anything has struck you most, about the level of competition heading into the 2007-08 season based on what you saw at Silverstone?
JH: "I think everyone seems to have made gains in terms of their overall performance. I was really impressed with some of the rookie drivers that tested at Silverstone. Some of these drivers were hopping into an A1GP car for the very first time yet they were bang up there on the pace. I guess there seems to be less of a hierarchy than there was before, based on test times if nothing else.
"Last year you always knew who the top five teams would be and you could almost predict the order of those teams as well. This year in testing the top ten was changing all the time, there was never a set grid. The usual suspects were there of course but it was just that close that the order couldn't really be predicted. It really goes to show just how level a playing field A1GP actually is."
Q: What do you make of the changes made to qualifying and the races this season?
JH: "To be honest I think the changes made are fairly positive. Two pit stops in the Feature race might not be my preferred tactic, I'm a big fan of longer races, and this will likely turn the Feature into a series of mini sprints! I liked it last year as there was always a bit of a gamble as to when to pit for tires subject to how quickly they were going off.
"Now with two stops you don't have to worry too much about how to treat your tires. On the one hand I think the races will be really good with drivers going for it and pushing but on the other hand it takes away from the tire management skill that led to some excitement in the past. In terms of qualifying and the points and prize fund for the Sprint race I think it'll definitely make things a lot more exciting -- there's more to play for. I think it's a lot better that your starting spot for the Feature race will be based on qualifying and not your finishing position from the Sprint."
Q: What does it mean to you to be able to represent Canada in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport?
JH: "Well I've said it before but when I was growing up I always wanted to be an Olympian representing Canada and winning a gold medal. Unfortunately I was no good at running, biking, swimming and so on so this is really now as close as I'm going to get to emulating that kind of accomplishment. It's a huge honor for me to represent Canada in A1GP and hopefully at some point this season I'll get the chance to bring home the gold!"
Q: Would you like to see an A1GP event staged in Canada and are there any plans in place to make this happen?
JH: "There's nothing more I'd like to see than an A1GP race held in Canada. I've maintained all along that A1GP provides THE best open-wheel racing on the planet and with the passion we have for that form of racing in Canada I think an event there would be phenomenal. I know some talks have taken place and there's a few different venues being looked at so fingers crossed we'll see something on a future calendar!"