James Hinchcliffe is the driver of the No.27 GoDaddy.com Andretti Auto sport IZOD Indy Car. In his free time, the Ontario native is a maple syrup connoisseur and part-time lumberjack who enjoys flannels and dog sledding.
Well, at least that’s what the 26-year-old’s website says on his clever “meet the mayor” bio page. So, I had to catch up with the 2011 Indy Car Rookie of the Year to find out who the talented young driver really is. With the month of May in full swing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he has become one of the favorites to win the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.
When his former team, Newman/Haas Racing, dissolved after his rookie season, Hinchcliffe was left without a ride. But, when Danica Patrick left for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Hinchcliffe was in the crosshairs of one of the series’ biggest names.
“I got the call from this team (Andretti) and I was shaking my head thinking ‘do you guys have the right number? Did you call the right guy?’ I was flored,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’m glad that they had better foresight than I did because being able to race for this name and GoDaddy has been so much fun for me and so great.”
Indeed it has. Hinchliffe picked up his first two career wins this season at St.Petersburg and Sao Paulo, adding to the his increasing success and popularity. But he didn’t just stumble upon a driver’s seat. Following the footsteps of the late Greg Moore and other fellow Canadian drivers like former Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve, open wheel racing has always been the destination and Indianapolis has always been the grand prize.
“This (Indy Car) was the goal. Everything I did up to this point was a means to get here … versatility is the key to the Indy Car series because of all the different types of tracks we race on so everything I’ve done coming up was a good preparation for that and there’s no other race you put this much effort to get into for one weekend so its (The Indianapolis 500) a special event through and through.”
Indianapolis is prestige. Just the thought of it demands your respect. The history, the allure and everything about the month of May is why winning this race forever locks your name into a fraternity of legends. With so much pressure and anxiety leading up to the green flag, how does a driver stay calm and loose?
“I get to bed early the night before because staying at the track, once that cannon goes off at 6 a.m. you’re up whether you want to be or not … for me, the coolest thing is driver introductions, there is nothing quite like it. I don’t want to be in race mode yet because I won’t really appreciate it and that’s a travesty because there have been so few people that have got to walk across those steps onto the race track in front of all those people. So, once that ends, the walk to my car is when I flip the switch into race mode, its business time.”
Naturally, I had to ask because everyone has dreamed of that moment whether you’re a driver or not: how would you drink the milk in winner’s circle after winning the Indianapolis 500? Chug it or pour it on your head? That has become the trend over the past few years after the late Dan Wheldon poured it on his head in 2005.
“I’ll take a sip first and then pour it on my head,” Hinchcliffe said.
Winning at Indy, in its own way, is a suffix. Such is Sr. and Jr., “Indianapolis 500 champion” forever follows the names of those who have won the greatest spectacle in racing. Hinchcliffe would have no complaints if he wins, but he wants to be remembered for something much greater.
“I believe that there are so many variables in this sport so I don’t make results-based goals. You could drive well enough to win five Indy 500’s but there are 1,000 things out of your control so I don’t think that defines you as a driver … I want to leave this sport with the respect of the guys I respect in it. If those guys are saying ‘that guy could wheel a race car no matter the condition, no matter the track’, that’s how I want to be remembered.”
You can follow James Hinchcliffe on twitter @Hinchtown. Follow Corey Elliot on twitter @CoreyElliot