The coming new season will bring a lot of new beginnings for James Hinchcliffe.
He’s got a new sponsor, a new engineering team, a new powerplant, and a new promotional gig with Honda Canada to contend with in 2014. But he’s taking it all very much in stride.
The deal with Honda Canada was announced at the Canadian International Auto Show two weeks ago and is the culmination of some long-awaited serendipity.
“When I came into the series in 2011 I was a Honda driver,” Hinchcliffe says. “I started that relationship then, but at the time obviously Paul (Tracy) was still there and he was the figurehead for Honda Canada, and that made total sense.
“It did not take long after Andretti (Autosport) made the announcement that we were going to Honda that we got in touch with (Honda Canada) and started those conversations again.
“I’m going to be helping with a lot of promotion for them, doing a lot of charity work for them. They’ve been such a big supporter of IndyCar and the race in Toronto specifically. It’s so cool to be part of the family. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Hinchcliffe has tested Honda’s new twin-turbo IndyCar engine twice now, and he’s quick to downplay any concerns of whether Honda needs to catch up on Chevrolet’s two-year head start.
“The rules open up every two years, so there’s a lot more room for development over this off-season than there has been the last two,” he points out. “So, yes, Honda are switching from single to twin, but Chevy have had to adjust the size of their turbos, so it’s not completely the same for them, either.
“I think a lot will be learned at St. Pete on where everybody stacks up. We’re obviously going to keep pushing them as hard as possible, and they’re a company that’s motivated to win anyway. Together, hopefully, we can make some magic happen.”
When Hinchcliffe’s 2013 chief engineer, Craig Hampson, was tapped by the team for a promotion to a broader role as Andretti Autosport’s Director of Research and Development, he left big shoes to fill. The team acquired Nathan O’Rourke from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing earlier in this off-season, and Hinchcliffe says the transition is going well.
“So far, the relationship has been great,” Hinchcliffe says. “He’s very similar to Craig in a lot of ways, which is good, and still having Craig as a resource to bounce things off of and get up to speed on what we’ve been doing the last few years has been a tremendous asset.
“I’m not predicting any problems there, any worry about the get-to-know-you phase. I think that by the time we get to St. Pete we’ll be ready to race.”
And then there’s the new sponsor, United Fiber and Data, a company owned by members of the rock band Live that has been providing increasing levels of support to the Andretti team in recent years. Between UFD’s blue and white, the retention of the number 27, and the way the colors are laid out, the result is very nearly enough to give veteran Canadian race fans déjà vu of the Players days. Could it possibly have been deliberate?
“It wasn’t,” Hinchcliffe admits. “I don’t want to say that some of the design cues were picked up off those cars – it’s just kind of how a race car looks good in those colors.
“It’s kind of cool now to have a number that means a lot to Canadian racing and a color combo-slash-scheme that does the same thing.”
As the Mayor of Hinchtown’s connections to his home and native land grow ever deeper, it certainly seems as though fans north of the border have plenty to cheer about.
MFW’s Steph Wallcraft spoke with James Hinchcliffe recently on these and a number of other topics, including his opinion of fellow countryman Jacques Villeneuve’s return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his position on the double-header weekends now that they appear to be here to stay, his thoughts on IndyCar gridding up for a new season with no women on the grid, and a deeper look into how he hones his focus when it’s time to get to work. To listen to the interview in its entirety, tune in to the next More Front Wing podcast, which will be released tomorrow morning right here at MoreFrontWing.com.