James Hinchcliffe isn’t kidding himself.
He’s about to begin his third year in the IZOD IndyCar Series. It will also be his second year with Andretti Autosport — marking the first time in his career he’ll start a new year without starting from zero with a new team.
“Clearly there’s something wrong with me if I’ve never been able to stick around,” he quips in that trademark self-deprecating style.
“For me it’s a little bit different,” he continues, “because the most important relationship on a race team is driver and engineer, and the one guy I’ve lost from my crew was my engineer [Tino Belli, now with Panther Racing].
“On the flip side of that, the guy we got was my engineer from 2011 [Craig Hampson from Newman/Haas], who is obviously an incredibly capable engineer. And because I’ve already worked with him, we’re past that phase.”
Throw onto that pile the fact that Hinchcliffe’s teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay, is the reigning Series champion and the picture becomes clear: the pressure to perform is on more than ever.
“The way I’ve been looking at it,” he says, “is every single lap that I do, I’m one lap closer to that first win. Obviously, the team’s capable – they’ve won races and the championship last year. My engineer is one of the most decorated engineers in pit lane. So, the last element is pretty much the guy behind the wheel.”
At the same time, Hinchcliffe knows that it’s important to manage expectations.
“When you’re in a sport where you’re not allowed to practice, every lap that you do on a race weekend, that’s when you’re learning,” he observes.
“These guys that have been around for 10 years, they’ve practiced 10 times more than I have. Yes, I’m third year, but that’s still pretty young in the grand scheme of guys that I’m racing against: Will, Scott, Ryan, Dario.
“I put pressure on myself to win races because that’s why you go to the racetrack. You don’t go to the racetrack to finish second. But at the same time I appreciate that it’s very difficult to do and that the guys I’m up against have been doing this for a long time and have all these tricks.
“The job I have this year is finding out what’s that last half a percent that takes you from a podium guy to a race-winning guy.”
James Hinchcliffe spoke recently with More Front Wing on many more topics, including the addition of EJ Viso to the Andretti Autosport team, the double-header race weekend and standing starts that are new to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2013, and much more. To hear the interview in its entirety, tune in to the More Front Wing podcast, which makes its season debut tomorrow morning. Find us on iTunes or right here at morefrontwing.com.