High winds and cold temperatures failed to stop Canada's James Hinchcliffe enjoying his first outing in an IndyCar as the 24-year-old concluded two days of testing with the Newman/Haas Racing at Sebring International Raceway on Monday and Tuesday.
Hinchcliffe, a three-time race winner and runner-up in this year's Firestone Indy Lights Series, set a fastest time of 52.8sec from 81 laps recorded on Tuesday on the Florida road course.
Q: How was your first time flat-out in an IndyCar?
“I'll tell you, the biggest thing that impressed me in those first few laps was the engine. The increase in power from the Lights car was significant, so the first time going flat-out was a bit of a wake up call. I had to remind myself, 'All right, James, this isn't a Lights car, let's get it together and figure this thing out!'”
Q: Did the team have a rookie program for you to follow and if so what did you concentrate on, specifically?
“Absolutely. My program was tailored to a rookie. Driver development rather than car development! The first day was really about acclimatizing myself with the car – the extra power, the downforce, the brakes – and getting used to some of the procedural stuff on the team side.
“For day two, we worked more on setup changes that gave me a feel for how certain changes affect the car, all the while building a working relationship with the team. OK, we may have had some fun and tried to go fast when we found some spare time!”
Q: Sebring was cold – did that have any impact on your time in the car?
“It made my time in the car cold! I couldn't feel my toes half of the time. Luckily, it didn't have any impact on how many miles we did, but certainly did on what time of day we ran and the performance of certain aspects of the car. They were definitely not the best conditions, but the team did a great job of making the best of it.
“To be honest, it wasn't so bad for me, strapped into a nice warm racecar, but I feel for the mechanics and engineers who were working out in the freezing cold all day! True professionals!”
Q: Was your head buzzing on Monday night digesting your first day's running?
“Absolutely! I'd like to lie and say it was no big thing, but there was just so much to take in! Not only is it a new team, car, etc., the IndyCar has so much more telemetry to go through, and the analysis is a much bigger part of how they operate. It was a change, but I really enjoyed that side of it. The more info I can cram into my head the better!”
Q: You were running with the team alongside Oriol Servia – how much time did you spend with him and were you working together on anything?
“Oriol and I sat together for every debrief and we were usually on track at the same time to make sure we were running in the same conditions. It was great for me, because he is such an experienced guy that I could pull so much from him, especially on day one. By day two I was at a level where the team could evaluate a change with both drivers, so it was good for me to reach that point and be able to contribute to the team's development plan.”
Q: What was it like behind the wheel of one of Newman/Haas Racing's Indy cars and following in the tire tracks of some legendary names?
“It was phenomenal. You know they are such a legendary outfit, and so professional, I was incredibly lucky to have gotten my first crack at the big cars with them. More so even than driving the car was going to their race shop. That's when the history and pedigree of the team hits you like a Mack truck!”
Q: How badly do you want to race an IndyCar now that you've tested one?
“Every time you test a new car, the first thought is, ‘OK, now let's go racing!' The big difference is, normally if you move up from F2000 to Star Mazda, or Mazda to Indy Lights, you don't know or haven't heard of a lot of the people you are racing against. With this step, you know them all because you've been watching them on TV. It's a little intimidating thinking of the possibility of sharing the track with guys like Franchitti, Power and Dixon. But, at the end of the day, it's just another car and they are just another group of drivers you have to go out and race your hardest against.”
Q: Presumably only a full-time ride in the IndyCar Series will suffice now, then?
“Certainly after testing with NHR and seeing the response from fans and colleagues and everyone, it would be really hard to swallow not being on the grid next year. Having said that, there are still a lot of things that have to fall into place for that to happen. We are incredibly focused on achieving that goal and if anything seeing the support from so many people has just made me push that much harder to pull it off.”