Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe will start from the center of the front row in Sunday's 96th running of the Indianapolis 500. He discussed prospects for the race with the media on Wednesday.
Q: It's been a rain-free month of May. You've had plenty of opportunity to be on the track. What kind of race do you expect on Sunday?
JH: It's a race of unknowns. This is the first time anybody will run this car for a full race distance on an oval. With the heat we're expecting on Sunday, that throws a question mark into the mix. We just don't know how this car is going to race.
As much as we try to run around in packs in practice, when you have all 33 cars on track running flat out and racing properly, it's a very different game than what you see during practice, even though we'll see on Carb Day.
You're going to have to be flexible on your strategy; you're going to have to adjust the car at pit stops and inside the cockpit, stay ahead of the changing conditions. That's sort of the nature of this race just because of how long it is.
Q: The only Canadian to win the Indianapolis 500 was Jacques Villeneuve – who ironically drove the No. 27 car to the win. What would it mean for you to bring home a win in Indianapolis?
JH: I mean, it's beyond words. That's a tough thing to describe. But obviously this is the biggest race of our calendar. This is the one that everybody wants to win.
We're starting on the front row, starting in a good position with the Go Daddy car for the drop of the green. But there are 500 very long miles that we have to finish after that and hopefully we can be there at the end.
Q: One thing that I found interesting this month is that your car kind of had its own identity because of the driver [previously] in it. It seems you've taken over the identity of that car. You've drawn fans all month. Now it's like the Go Daddy car is your car. When people see it, they now think JH. How has that transition happened in this series?
JH: It's been great. Obviously jumping into this ride, you're following a very big act, probably the biggest act in IndyCar. I think it was important to try and make it our own a little bit.
Obviously, what Go Daddy and Danica [Patrick] did was tremendous not only for themselves, but for our whole sport. Coming into it, there's going to be parallels drawn, comparisons made. It wasn't a super, super conscious decision to try to make it our own. But I just sort of approached it like I've approached any other season, embraced having a sponsor like Go Daddy onboard.
They are supportive of the wacky personality that I can be sometimes and they don't try to hold me back, which is great. It's something that I think some of the fans have been able to relate to and attract some attention.
From my point of view, it's cool now. I get a lot less people yelling out ‘Danica,' like I did in St. Pete and a lot more people calling out ‘Hinch!,' which is cool.
Q: Are you surprised about the amount of fans you get around your pit area? You're probably mobbed by more people than a lot of the other drivers that are here, even people that have been in the sport a lot longer.
JH: Well, I mean, it's always a surprise. I don't know why anybody would want my autograph. I just like driving racecars.
It's always a very cool thing because, well, before I ever sat behind the wheel of a car, I was a kid with a card and a Sharpie trying to get a driver's autograph. Now being on the other side of the fence is, you know, very humbling and sort of a very cool experience. It's an element of the sport that I really enjoy.
At the end of the day, as much as racecar drivers like to think we do this week in and week out, to be us, to be racecar drivers, it's got nothing to do with that – it's all about the fans. It's why we have the opportunity to show up every Sunday and have the coolest job in the world.
It's something I really enjoy. It's been great to see there's fans out here obviously supporting the Go Daddy car.
Q: Last year, this race was kind of a downer for you, a low point. If you look at the differences now, you're coming in on a high – you're on the front row. Talk about the significance of this race for the season happening now. A good result here is really going to make a huge difference.
JH: Yes, certainly last year for me was a learning year through and through, from the start to the finish, obviously including the Indy 500. I learned a very valuable lesson about Indy as a lot of rookies do. I think that experience will serve me well.
Certainly with where we are sitting in the championship and the season that we've had to date, a good result here is as important for the big picture as it is for wanting to do well at the Indy 500.
So to be starting on the front row, obviously we know we've got competitive cars, all the Andretti Autosport cars, great to see. Hopefully we can take the experience and the knowledge earned and learned the hard way last year and just try to apply that to a good result. Not only to say we had a good day at the Indy 500, but also there's a championship position we're fighting for.