James Hinchcliffe -- The Big Q&A Toronto, Canada (April 1, 2008) -- April's been a long time coming for Toronto's James Hinchcliffe but now that it's here the 21-year-old racer knows he's just three weeks away from the opening round of the...
James Hinchcliffe -- The Big Q&A
Toronto, Canada (April 1, 2008) -- April's been a long time coming for Toronto's James Hinchcliffe but now that it's here the 21-year-old racer knows he's just three weeks away from the opening round of the 2008 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. Piloting the #3 Forsythe Racing Swift Mazda-Cosworth, the Canadian standout is preparing for an all-out title assault starting with Round 1 on the streets of Long Beach, California, Friday 18th -- Sunday 20th April.
Never one to shy away from the issues of the day, 'Hinch', in advance of his return to the Atlantic Championship, took time out to share his thoughts on a variety of topics in 'The Big Q&A':
Q: You've not raced competitively since the second round of the 2007-08 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport last October in the Czech Republic, how pumped are you to get back behind the wheel and get going in Long Beach later this month in the 2008 Atlantic Championship?
James Hinchcliffe (JH): "I'm really psyched to get back racing. I've done a lot of testing with Forsythe Racing in the Atlantic car in the off-season but I'm not a test driver, I'm a racer so I'm excited to be gearing up for a return to competition at Long Beach. It's a great place to kick start the season. I didn't have the best of results there last year but I'm looking forward to coming out of the gates strongly this time round."
Q: So much has happened to the sport of open-wheel racing in North America since you competed last season. As a young driver who was looking to progress his career utilizing the ladder to the top implemented by Champ Car, and its tantalizing $2m prize for winning Atlantics, has your approach changed heading into your third season in Atlantic competition?
JH: "There's certainly been a lot of change and the whole landscape of open-wheel racing in North America is incredibly different than this time twelve months ago. For me though, my approach as a driver never changes! I want to go out and win and that's what we're here to do in Atlantics this season. My goals and plans in terms of where to go from here have been altered slightly but I still think the Atlantic Championship will be incredibly competitive in 2008. I want to take the title and assess my options for 2009!"
Q: Were you tempted to try and find a ride in the re-named Indy Lights Series, formerly the Indy Pro Series, given its status as the feeder category to the Indy Car Series?
JH: "I'm taking a completely honest and open approach to 2008 and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't seriously considered switching to Indy Lights. It makes sense in terms of it being the feeder series but the more I looked at it the more I realized that every open-wheel series seems to be in a period of transition this year so I really think the dust has to settle to see how they all compare.
"I looked at the entry list for Indy Lights this season and frankly I thought we had a deeper talent field in Atlantics. I know this year I'm competing for a front-running team, in Forsythe Racing, and I'm a believer in running where the best competition is and having looked at the Indy Lights line-up I just felt the strength wasn't there to make me want to make the change. Considering how much has changed in the Atlantic Championship it's been amazing to see the continued participation of everyone. Through the tests at Sebring, Laguna Seca and in Houston, you can see it's still an incredibly strong championship and that speaks volumes to the commitment the drivers and teams have to the series and their belief that it will remain a relevant proving ground!"
Q: What's it like being back in the Forsythe Racing outfit having made your Atlantics debut with the team back in 2006?
JH: "It really feels like coming home again. I made my Atlantic debut with Forsythe Racing two seasons ago and it was a big deal making the step up to this caliber of championship. Now that I'm back there are still a few familiar faces and the old relationships remain as strong as ever. I always maintained good links with the team. Technically I think they've improved so ultimately I believe they're the best team to be with right now as they'll give me the best shot at winning the championship and that's all I'm here to do!"
Q: You topped the timesheets at the pre-season test at Sebring and remained at the sharp-end at tests in Laguna Seca and MSR Houston -- has the competitiveness of the series been affected in any way by recent events and how much pressure do you feel under given your 'veteran' status?
JH: "Well like I said before, I've been surprised to see how strong the field has remained given some of the uncertainty and turmoil that's taken place in open-wheel racing in North America of late. Despite the fact that we've lost our 'mother' series we've maintained a really strong field. Sebring went well for me but I didn't go quite so well at the other two tests although we established there was a small problem with my car at both those tests so given our pace relative to that, we're actually quite happy and looking forward to the start of the season.
"With regards to being a veteran then the goal has to be to win the championship. Rookie's can take a year to learn everything but obviously I've been there and done that now. I'm partnered by another veteran at Forsythe (David Garza) so I think that'll make our team pretty strong as we should be able to help develop the car further and enjoy multiple race wins!"
Q: What have you heard about the Atlantics schedule this season and races to be held in Canada?
JH: "Well obviously the Atlantic organizers were dealt a tough hand as recent events transpired so they've basically had to re-do the 2008 schedule. It would be easy for them to drop hints as to what's going to happen but they've held to their strategy of waiting until the schedule is 100% firm and complete before releasing the information. We've all seen the preliminary schedule and it is 95% done and frankly it looks really good.
"We're getting to run in front of a bunch of different series in virtually every category in North America. We're also set to go to some really cool venues which should really suit the Atlantic car. On top of that we know there's going to be at least three races in Canada so from my point of view that's huge! There's even the potential for a fourth race in Canada so I think all in all it's shaping up, as far as I'm concerned, to be a brilliant schedule."
Q: As things currently stand the Toronto Grand Prix is in a period of limbo. As a Toronto 'native' are you disappointed to see the race disappear from the open-wheel schedule this season and how confident are you that it will return, potentially under the guidance of Andretti-Green Promotions?
JH: "Am I disappointed? Absolutely! I'm also understanding as to why it wasn't able to remain on the schedule this season. There were just so many changes going on and there was certainly confidence that the Toronto race would be kept but ultimately with just how late everything happened it was going to be impossible to secure the event for this year. That said, with Andretti-Green Promotions signing the letter of intent, it almost secures the future of the race for 2009.
"It would almost be foolish of the Indy Car Series to not come to Toronto given how huge a market it is. We're such big race fans in this city, and in particular open-wheel race fans. The event's always been popular for the twenty or so years it's been running here. Knowing that Michael (Andretti) has a special place in his heart for Toronto, given how many times he won here, I'm pretty confident it'll be back on the schedule next season."
Q: With the likes of Jacques Villeneuve failing to secure a full-time ride in NASCAR and Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani failing to land rides in the 'unified' Indy Car Series, give us your take on the health of Canadian motorsport and the perceived lack of interest from corporate Canada?
JH: "That's a tough thing to touch on really. There's no doubt it's tough to convince a company to spend a boat-load of their money on something that they don't necessarily believe in. Our job, as people in the industry, is to teach them and make them believe in the product and see the value of motorsport as a relevant marketing tool.
"NASCAR's not quite as popular in Canada as it is in America so there's an element of that affecting drivers, and there isn't a top level Sprint Cup race here either. With open-wheel racing it's been such a struggle over the last decade and more become of the split between CART and the IRL. I think with a unified series you're going to see over the next three to five years a lot more interest come out of corporate Canada because simply there will be a lot more value. In terms of where I'm at in my career, I've got a front-row seat to take advantage of the new situation early and get companies excited about the unification and hopefully that will reap rewards for me in the long run!"
Q: We mentioned earlier your involvement with A1 Team Canada in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. Has it been frustrating for you to be an observer as your team-mate Robert Wickens, who took over from you following the second round, has gone on to help steer Canada to its best-ever season in the nation versus nation championship?
JH: "For sure I'm a driver and I want to be racing but obviously Robbie's been doing a really good job and the team's stepped it up and they've been on a roll. I think because Robbie's such a good friend of mine and we get on so well it's a little easier to take and I'm genuinely happy for him and for the team. I also understand the situation! A1GP's a very complex beast in the way that each nation can utilize different drivers throughout the season. I understand and appreciate that when a driver's on a roll the best thing you can do is leave him in the car and let the momentum build.
"I was taken out of the car in a similar situation last year and we never really regained the form that we'd shown earlier in the season. I was pretty supportive of keeping Robbie in the car as long as the job was getting done. Is it tough watching someone else drive? Yeah! It's a bit like watching someone else date your girlfriend. In this case though it's a good friend of mine and I believe in Robbie's abilities and it's been good to see Canada do so well and moving up the A1GP standings."
Q: You've made your name as a talent in open-wheel racing progressing from the likes of Formula BMW USA and Star Mazda through to Atlantic and A1GP competition -- are we likely to see you attempt any other forms of racing in future seasons?
JH: "Definitely! I'm a driver and frankly I'll drive anything with four wheels if someone gives me the opportunity. Open-wheel racing's definitely where my heart's at but over the past year or so I've been following the likes of NASCAR closely. I find it intriguing that so many open-wheel guys have gone there lately and struggled a bit. I wonder if I could maybe go over there and succeed. I've also always had goals of running in sports cars and having the opportunity to compete in the classics such as the 'Rolex 24 at Daytona' and Le Mans and Sebring. If the offer and opportunity are there I'll take it with both hands -- maybe with the exception of lawnmower racing!"