Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
An interview with James Hinchcliffe
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guests joining us today. In a few minutes we'll be joined by the reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, and joining us now is Firestone Indy Lights rookie James Hinchcliffe. Thanks for giving us a call.
James recently signed to drive the No. 7 Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry for 2009 after competing three seasons in Atlantics where he won a couple races, and he also drove for Team Canada in A1GP. James, tell us a little bit about the deal with Sam. Obviously it came together relatively late. Tell us a little bit about how you spent the offseason and how the deal came together.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Well, like you say, it did sort of come together a little bit late. I guess that's sort of a trend this year with the way everything is and the economy and just the world in general. Everything sort of took a little bit longer to come together. I spent my offseason with a lot of sleepless nights and making a lot of phone calls and sending a lot of emails trying to make a deal happen.
We actually got in touch with Sam quite early on and have been speaking to him since about last October, so you can just sort of see how much effort and work had to go into this. He got me into the car, we did a couple tests together and everything just clicked really well. So we managed to make everything line up and get the deal done, and so for me to be joining a team of this caliber in my rookie season I think is such a great thing for me. To be in the 7 car that's been running up front the last couple seasons, it's always been a competitive car, and to find myself in it for this first year is something that I'm pretty excited about.
MODERATOR: You hit upon it, you've had a chance to test a couple times and the team has been very successful. But as a rookie what kind of goals do you set for yourself for the season and maybe even especially just the first couple races to try to get off to a strong start?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think that's just it. I think a strong start is going to be important. I'm going to try and not make too many predictions or set too many goals. I'm very comfortable in this team, and I'm very confident in their abilities, and so I know for me, especially on the ovals, I have a lot to learn. I've had a chance to do some testing, but it's a completely different beast and requires a completely different skill set from driving on the road courses.
I know it's going to be a pretty steep learning curve, and I'm lucky that I'm with an organization such as Sam Schmidt Motorsports to really help me with that education and get me up to speed as quickly as possible. We're just going to sort of take it one race at a time at the beginning of the season.
The first three races for us are road courses, and I've been to Long Beach, haven't been to St. Pete, but I'll hopefully have a little bit of advantage on the track knowledge on that one. So we're just hoping to come out of those first three races in a strong position and just sort of be consistent and as quick as possible.
MODERATOR: Later in the summer, the series makes two stops in your home country of Canada. I'm sure you're excited about going to Toronto and Edmonton.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Absolutely. The Toronto race, I've raced in both venues before, and the Toronto race was dropped from everything last year. There was no race in Toronto last year unfortunately, so for me living in Toronto it's going to be a huge joy to go back there and race in front of the home crowd. And Edmonton, as well. That event is so well run and so well attended. The Canadian fans just love motorsports and especially open wheel, so the support that we get as a series when we go down there and then a little bit extra for me as a local driver, it makes a difference. It's a cool atmosphere, and I think everybody in the series is really looking forward to hitting those two venues.
MODERATOR: Tell us a little bit about your teammates. You're paired up with Ana Beatriz, who won a race last year after a strong campaign, and Gustavo Yacaman. How well do you know those two already and how well do you expect to work together throughout the season?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It's been really good so far. We've done a lot of testing together. Obviously Gustavo had a little bit of a handicap because he wasn't allowed to test until he turned 18. So he was present but not maybe driving at some of the tests. And Ana I've gotten to spend a bunch of time with and it's great. It's a really good mix of personalities, a little bit of a United Nations of a race team with everybody on board, and then kind of the crew, my engineer is Australian and there's a couple other Canadians on the crew. So it's a very diverse team.
Obviously Gus and I are going to be relying on Ana a little bit on the ovals. She's got that year of experience and it's going to be a first for us, and we all come from a road racing background, so I think we're all able to help each other a little bit here and there on the road courses.
But, so far really good. Gus is young and eager and aggressive and Ana has had a year of experience now, so I think it's a really good mix. I think we'll work well together.
Q: Don't need the long version, maybe just a couple of seconds here. Compare this car to the Atlantic machinery that you have been racing and familiar with. Is it a vast amount of difference? Do they handle a lot different? Is the power different and how do you drive them differently?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: The cars are very different, the driving skills are very different. The Indy Lights car is quite a bit heavier but also has quite a lot more horsepower, but it's a little bit less in the downforce on the road courses. So as a result the Atlantic is a lot about high minimums and big momentum whereas the Indy Lights car is more sort of big in, slower minimums and big power out, so it's more of a point and squirt sort of car. So the driving style is actually a lot different. So it was a tough thing for me to learn, but I think we've got a grasp on it.
Q: Got to be amazing to get the race back in Toronto and race in front of your home crowd.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: There's nothing like it. It's such a high racing in front of your home crowd, and like I said earlier the fans there are so supportive. It's such a cool atmosphere and such a cool event, and on Sunday night we're going to be hosting such a cool after-party so I hope everybody sticks around for that.
Q: Sam Schmidt Motorsports has always been up there pretty top-notch. Are you with them for the whole year this year?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, they have signed me on for the whole season, until they fire me, which hopefully doesn't happen. No, it's a full year deal for us, and like you said, they're a front-running team and have been for the past couple years. I'm very confident in the team and the ability that they have and the cars that they're going to provide me week in and week out. Now it's just sort of up to me to adapt to this new series, this new car as quickly as possible and get my head down and go for those wins.
Q: Have you been able to do any racing off-season?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: No, sadly the last couple years I've been very lucky to be involved with A1GP, but Team Canada this year didn't exist. We ran out of funds, which never happens in motorsports, so it was a bit of a shock. So unfortunately my ride there sort of disappeared, so I have not been able to do any driving really.
But luckily Sam has had me in the car a decent amount testing, so I feel like I've got a lot of winter miles under my belt and really looking forward to racing.
Q: Two questions: One, you mentioned Sam. How inspiring is it to be driving for him? Just what kind of inspiration is he to you?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Sam is a pretty remarkable individual. Not only what he accomplished as a driver, but then dealing with the situation that he was dealt and the way he's handled that and embraced that and worked to try and help other people in a similar situation, all while simultaneously running an incredibly competitive racing team, which is something most people can't do alone, never mind all the extra stuff he does. He's an incredible businessman, he's a great team owner and quite a philanthropist, as well, so just as an individual with all he's accomplished and all he continues to do, it's pretty remarkable.
Q: Second thing is you're going to have the two street races and then Kansas is your first oval before you go to Indy. Just how important is that Kansas race to kind of get your circle bearings going again?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think Kansas is going to be pretty critical. Everybody is really looking forward to getting there. I've been studying race tapes from the last couple years of the races there. It looks like a great track. I have not had a chance to test there yet. But like you say, it's the first oval of the season and the first one before Indianapolis, so obviously it's going to be a good opportunity for me to get my feet wet.
But you also have to remember that there's going to be a bunch of rookies in the series this year. I'm thinking 12 to 14 rookies. So there's going to be a lot of guys who at Kansas are going to be experiencing these big car drafts for the first time, big numbers, five, six cars in a draft, and it's going to be -- I think it's going to be a bit of a nail biter. That's probably going to be one more of the more entertaining races of the year.
Q: Why so many rookies, so many guys who have moved up?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think that's part of it. You're seeing a bunch of guys who are coming over from Europe. Opportunities over there are very expensive, and these days if you're not backed by a manufacturer at the age of 12, you're pretty much out the door. So luckily the Indy Racing League and Indy Lights championship offer a very competitive racing series, and I think also with Champ Car no longer being around, it sort of makes this the go-to junior formula car series in the country.
I think there's a bunch of factors going in, and given the economic situation I'm absolutely thrilled to think that we're going to have above 20 cars come St. Pete.
MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us. We appreciate your time and wish you the best of luck this season.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Thanks very much.