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Hinchcliffe: 2013 building block for championship

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — James Hinchcliffe embraces familiarity in racing, whether it’s competing in a one-off event such as the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona this past weekend or the full IndyCar Series season with Andretti Autosport.

“For the fact that we moved into a new car, it’s good that I know all the people involved. I think the same for them; it’s one less element of uncertainty,” said Hinchcliffe, who co-drove the SpeedSource car with Sylvain Tremblay and Tom Long in the endurance race — his first in a Prototype class car.

Hinchcliffe was looking forward to competing in the Rolex 24 for the third time and drove three stints before an overheating issue forced retirement of the car in the early morning after 369 laps on the 3.56-mile circuit.

“There’s no substitute for seat time; it doesn’t matter what type of car you’re in,” Hinchcliffe added. “The 24 is just a historic race and you’re racing against so many great drivers from all over the world. It’s cool to be a part of. As a driver and fan of the sport, you’re getting to do what your heroes have done. The winner’s list is a who’s who of the best.

“The drivers’ meeting is the most humbling room you could sit in because you look around and it doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved because the guy next to you probably has done more.”

Hinchcliffe returns to the Honda-powered No. 27 United Fiber & Data car Feb. 4, joining Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz for testing at Sebring International Raceway. An Open Test is scheduled for March 17-18 at Barber Motorsports Park, and the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is March 30.

Hinchcliffe recorded his maiden IndyCar Series victory on the 1.8-mile St. Pete street circuit last year, wrapping the Canadian flag around his shoulders in an emotional Victory Circle celebration. He added victories at Sao Paulo and Iowa Speedway, but placed eighth in the championship standings.

“2013 was kind of like a successful failure,” said the Toronto native, who turned 27 on Dec. 5. “We had three wins but we weren’t in the championship hunt in the last round, which was our goal. Having those three wins builds confidence that we can push for it.

“Where we were deficient and where we need to improve has been a big focus of the offseason. Hopefully last year was the building blocks of a championship run in 2014.”

It will be Hinchcliffe’s third season with Andretti Autosport, and though there’s been alterations to the engineering group (Nathan O’Rourke moved from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to be his race engineer) the rapport with Andretti and Hunter-Reay adds to the comfort level.

“I’m kind of glad with Carlos is here now because it makes me feel like I’m not the new kid on the block anymore,” he said, referring to the rookie who finished third in the Firestone Indy Lights championship in ‘13. “With Ryan and Marco the transition of this team is so effortless.

“To have that experience of the last few seasons and getting those first wins is huge. There are a lot of new things but it still feels like home. It’s cool to see how we’ve developed and grown as a group of people. We like the challenge.”