Newsstand » Racer James Hinchcliffe in unknown zone 0

Racer James Hinchcliffe in unknown zone 0



The 2013 IndyCar season was a breakout year for Canada’s James Hinchcliffe ­ — he won three times driving the dayglo green No. 27 Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport.

He comes back this season, however, without the camera-loving presence of the web giant, and with Honda now powering his sleek Dallara DW12 machine.

The 27-year-old native of Oakville, in Toronto Wednesday on a whirlwind series of media interviews, is confident that he won’t miss a beat when North America’s top open-wheel racing loop launches its 2014 season with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) on March 30.

“It might be a little harder to spot my car on the track this year,” Hinchcliffe said of his new silver and blue livery courtesy of his new primary sponsor, the broadband networking company United Fiber & Data.

The new car colours do have a distinct Canadian feel, however, more than a little reminiscent of the race cars driven by Toronto’s Scott Goodyear in his IndyCar heydays and of the Team Player’s cars of the late Greg Moore of Vancouver.

And Hinchcliffe said working with the UFD folks will be different.

“It is going to be a very different year off the track because the demands of a company like GoDaddy are very different from a company like UFD,” he said. “They want people to know what UFD is and I think they are going about it the right way.”

“There certainly will be less demands on my time.”

The other important change for Hinchcliffe is the switch to Honda engines, something he will have to deal with every day of the upcoming season.

“It is funny the switch in engines was very noticeable right away,” he said. “It is so tough to explain to someone who hasn’t driven a race car using both the Chevy and Honda power plants.

“The way the engines use their power, deliver their power, the feel back through the car is very different.

“But it didn’t take too long to get used to it. It wasn’t an uncomfortable feeling at all.

“We have had a lot of fun working with the HPD (Honda Performance Development) guys. We pushed them really hard and they are pushing us hard.

“At the end of the day we have to make the best product and that is a combination of car, driver and engine.”

As for repeating or bettering his three wins from last season Hinchcliffe is hedging his bets, especially in a year of so much change for both him and IndyCar.

“I think you have to keep your expectations within reason, what you did last year really doesn’t count,” he said. “There is a lot of unknowns this year that we didn’t have in 2013.”

Hinchcliffe pointed to the many new driver and team combinations this season, like having the No. 10 Target Ganassi Chevrolet on the track at St. Petersburg without four-time champion Dario Franchitti behind the wheel.

The 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, Tony Kanaan, took that seat after Franchitti was forced into an early retirement when he suffered serious injuries at Houston late last season.

“I am really looking forward to seeing how it all works out,” Hinchcliffe said. “There is just so many things we didn’t know to go out and say: ‘Yes we are going to win or we are going to do this or that.’

“We are just going to go out and do the best job we can. We know we have good cars and hopefully we can put a good race together to start the season at St. Petes.”

Hinchcliffe, of course, was close to signing a deal with Ganassi, but after lengthy negotiations chose to stay with Andretti.

He said he has no regrets about his decision.

“There were conversations held but at the end of the day we had made a home at Andretti Autosport and UFD were very keen to get me in that car,” Hinchcliffe said. “If I had left they would have filled the seat with someone but they wanted me in the car and that is a nice position to be in.

“Obvious, too, was that the No. 27 group was and is a championship-calibre team so it made sense to stay to try to keeping working on what we were building.”

He did not, however, rule out the possibility he could find his way back to the very high-profile No. 10 red Target car.

“You never say never,” Hinchcliffe said. “You never know, maybe one day in the future I will be in the red car.”

It certainly would match the skyrocketing star power he brings to IndyCar.

“I think this series, for years, focused on just one or two drivers in particular and I think the new mentality needs to have that spread around,” Hinchcliffe said. “When you look at NASCAR everybody knows Earnhardt, everybody knows Gordon, Johnson, Stewart, Edwards, Busch.

“All these guys are known quantities, and I think that is what IndyCar needs to try to do.”