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Hinchcliffe’s Season Turnaround Takes Giant Step with Iowa Win

(via INDYCAR.com) – Someday, people will stop talking about James Hinchcliffe not qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

The first step in changing the subject came in the form of a timely victory Sunday.

By winning the Iowa Corn 300, Hinchcliffe initiated the removal of the topic from the public racing discussion. The victory won’t completely silence the subject – it will return next May, of course – but a masterful drive has a way of quieting previous disappointments.

“People are going to keep talking about it until we go back (to Indianapolis in 2019), right?” Hinchcliffe said after winning at Iowa Speedway. “Even if the conversation dies for the next little while, as soon as May 1st comes around, it’s going to come back up. … But days like this, and honestly weekends like we’ve had, (help change the subject).”

As deflating as May 19 was, when he was bumped from the 33-car field for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, July 8 was triumphant. Hinchcliffe started mid-pack, but worked his way through the cars ahead of him and lapped traffic, eventually passing Josef Newgarden for the lead on Lap 256 of the 300-lap race.

“I’m just proud, honestly – proud of this group because something like what happened to this team in May can really get you down,” Hinchcliffe said. “Obviously that’s our Super Bowl. That’s our Wimbledon. That’s our Masters all wrapped into one. To miss it is a huge blow for every single member of the team. … We had grown men like in tears, like a lot of them in a lot of tears on bump day there. It just shows how much it means to us.”

Seven weeks ago, Hinchcliffe and the crew members on the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda were emotional when he didn’t qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Seven weeks later, they’re back to previous form, Hinchcliffe winning for the second time at Iowa Speedway and first time in nearly 15 months.

A top-10 finish two weeks ago at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, is the point when Hinchcliffe knew the team was back.

“(It) was actually one of our best races of the entire year,” he said. “(Tenth) place doesn’t look like that, but if you were on the inside and saw what happened and how we performed on (race day), I think you’d be pretty impressed. It was a really good performance from everybody. Same kind of thing in Texas (a fourth-place finish June 9). We’ve just been on a bit of a roll.”

After the disappointment of Indy, the team underwent personnel changes. The group that stayed vowed to forget about failing to qualify for Indy and the subsequent damage to any chance at a season championship and instead pressed forward, lap by lap.

“To not make it (into the Indy 500) can very easily just get a group down and you can get despondent,” Hinchcliffe said. “You can kind of lose track of what the real goal is and lose motivation. But no one in this group suffered from that at all. If anything, it fueled us and made us want to perform better and push harder and work harder. We’ve come back strong; the last couple events have actually been very good for us. “

Hinchcliffe knew the team would respond to Iowa; he won the race in 2013 when he drove for Andretti Autosport and has finished among the top 10 in six of his seven races at the 0.894-mile oval. Now he heads to his home race – the Honda Indy Toronto this week – with a renewed sense of optimism.

“It’s really coming together now,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of changes internally on the team, both before the season and mid-season, so it’s been a bit of a balancing act trying to get all the right pieces in the right places, but I think this shows that we’re starting to hit on something really good.”

The theme of this timely win? What’s past is past, and what’s in the future holds potential.

“If we just keep doing what we’ve been doing and not focus on it, and when we get back to Indy next year, not think about it, just kind of put it out of our heads, I think we’ll be in good shape,” he said.

Toronto’s temporary street circuit plays host to the Verizon IndyCar Series and all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder this weekend. Track activity begins Friday.

There will be three Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions – two on Friday (10:40 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET) and one Saturday (9:50 a.m.) – that all stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying begins at 1:55 p.m. Saturday and streams on the same locations, with a same-day telecast at 5 p.m. on NBCSN. Live coverage of Sunday’s 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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