Hinchcliffe cheated death in May, rehabilitated, trained and lost none of his speed, apparently.
James Hinchcliffe, who suffered a violent accident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May and then, in his own words, “shish-kebabed myself” with the broken suspension when it penetrated the cockpit, was back behind the wheel of a racecar today. Piloting his No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport-Honda around Road America, the Canadian favorite set one of the fastest times of the day. He spoke to Motorsport.com about his return to action and return to form.
Your times suggest it was like you’d never been away…
Yeah, it went better than I could have even dreamed it would. From the physical point of view, I expected to be struggling by the end of the day, especially judging by what some of the guys who tested last week had been saying. But I guess hard work in the gym paid off.
And you’re able to drive your street car home, so your arms can’t be too tired.
Right, I think the only thing that will be sore tomorrow is the back of my neck from all the hard braking. That’s what Charlie Kimball had warned me – that when he woke up the next day, his neck was aching a bit because you can just brake so late. When the team asked me what we needed when we come back for race weekend next year, I said, ‘better brakes.’ That’s not because the ones we have are bad; it’s just that that will be everything when it comes down to the race – making the brakes last.
How many laps did you do in the end?
About 60, which on a 4-plus-mile track is a lot of miles. It’s OK because you spend a relatively large proportion of them going in a straight line, but the brake zones are long.
Was there no intimidation factor at all? There are several places on that track where if you’re going to have an accident, it’s impossible for it to be a small one.
Hmm, yeah… Part of me thinks that first time back should maybe have been at Sebring – runoff areas, fairly slow, and a place I know like the back of my hand. But to be honest, Road America is my favorite road course in the country and I’ve wanted to run an Indy car around here from the first time I went there in 2004. So to get to do that was awesome. And it forced me to adapt quickly because man, it takes some big attachments to get through some of the corners as fast as you need to go. It was so much fun.
Bet you’re glad the cars are paddle-shift…
With how late we’re braking, yeah, absolutely! In the days of steel brakes, when the brake zones were much longer, stick shifts weren’t as much of an issue. But with the downforce we’ve got now, we’re downshifting right up to the apex of the corners in some places. Incredible.
How well did your times hold up in the final ranking?
Well, no official times obviously, but anyway they got a bit muddied at the end. The Andretti cars [Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti] were running new Honda pieces, and then Firestone were trying different compounds as well. So Ryan set a faster time than ours, but I know he was running experimental tires as well so there’s no real point at looking at times in detail. But we were there in the ballpark to the end and so we’re relatively pleased, and I could see progress since the last time I’d driven a road course with the team, back in mid-May at the Indy road course.
Well, you were cleared to drive and now there’s been no first-day jitters from your first day back at the wheel. From here, I assume you and Schmidt Peterson just proceed with off-season testing as usual.
Yeah, absolutely. I’ll be doing the Firestone tire test in Sebring mid-October. Everything’s back to normal… and it feels good!