(via INDYCAR.com) – In the grand scheme of life’s problems, James Hinchcliffe knows that having a Verizon IndyCar Series win screw up your travel plans isn’t anywhere near the top of the list.
But when you’re facing the busiest week of your season and post-race commitments due to a victory keep you longer than expected, it can throw a major monkey wrench into an already crazy schedule.
“I had to do so much media after Iowa that I missed my flight to Toronto, which meant I didn’t sleep well Sunday night, had to get up early for a flight, and I was probably more tired on Monday that I would have been if I had just finished fourth and got my plane,” said Hinchcliffe, who scored his sixth career win in last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 at the Iowa Speedway.
“I’m not sure winning Iowa helped or hurt, but its a good problem to have. I am not complaining.”
After the race in Iowa, the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda driver needed to get back to Canada to co-host a charity karting event with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport teammate Robert Wickens in Hamilton, Ontario, on Monday evening. He made it after some flight rescheduling and helped raise $6,335 for Make-A-Wish Canada.
Arriving in Canada after taking a hard-fought victory at the punishing Iowa Speedway also added a bit more pressure to the mix, as many hometown fans would like nothing more than to see the 31-year-old score back-to-back victories by taking a dream win at home, in this Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. Track activity begins on Friday.
“Coming off a good result always raises a little bit of expectations,” said Hinchcliffe, who finished a career best third at Toronto in both 2016 and 2017.
“Honestly, I think the fact that we’ve been on the podium the last two years here has probably done more for raising people’s expectations than anything that happened in Iowa. It’s going to be tough, though, because it’s a new car and we’re going to all these tracks for the first time with the new aero package, and nobody really knows where they stack up until we get on track.”
The Hamilton event was just the first stop in Hinchcliffe’s busy week leading to his home race. Saying Hinchcliffe’s week is packed would be a gross understatement. From Monday evening to after the race on Sunday, he’ll make 39 appearances at events both on the grounds of Exhibition Place and away from the circuit.
His three big trips outside Toronto happened earlier in the week with the Monday karting in Hamilton about 40 miles west, a day in Markham at the Honda Canada campus about 20 miles north of Exhibition Place on Tuesday and a Wednesday appearance at Petro Canada’s Oakville plant 25 miles west of the track. To put that in perspective, the combined 170-mile round trip for the three events is more than the race distance he’ll cover in 85 laps of the 1.786-mile Toronto street circuit on Sunday.
Things only speed up once he got to the track Thursday, with sponsor appearances, engineering meetings, media commitments and autograph sessions making for long days and not allowing much downtime. While he admits it’s tough to keep the energy level up, all the bustle is welcomed with open arms.
“I am so fortunate that I get to have a race in Toronto. This is my hometown, never mind my home country, and a lot of guys in this series don’t even get to do that,” he said.
“I remember being a kid and watching in the build-up to the race in Toronto or in Vancouver, they sent a camera following (late Canadian racer) Greg (Moore) on a couple of days before the race weekend. I remember thinking: ‘Man, that’s crazy, I had no idea they had to do all this stuff.’ I always thought when I got to this level that ‘he did it and I am going to do it.’ It’s just part of the deal.”
Ironically, Hinchcliffe’s only real relief from the demands of being the hometown hero comes in the hours he’ll spend in the car practicing, qualifying and racing.
“For me, being in the car in Toronto is kind of the only peace and quiet that I get in a sense,” he said.
“It’s the only thing that’s normal — it’s the only thing that’s same as every other race weekend. Everything else is different for me, but when you’re in the car is the only time that’s constant from any other race weekend. It could be in Toronto or Timbuktu.”
On both Saturday and Sunday, Hinchcliffe will clock in more than 12 hours on the job. His full day at the track on Saturday, which includes a 45-minute morning practice session followed by afternoon qualifying, concludes away from Exhibition Place with not one but two dinners on his agenda and sees him out until about 9:30 pm.
While Sunday is another long day, don’t feel too sorry for Hinchcliffe. He hosts an annual post-race party, that will be “the place to be” should he finally get that long-sought home win.
“The joke is always whether we are celebrating or commiserating, we have a reason to hang out and have a good time,” Hinchcliffe said.
“It’s just a fun way to get everyone together, whether it’s mechanics, series officials, the engine guys from Honda and Chevy usually show up, and obviously the drivers. It’s just a fun night to get everyone out and we have the week off after, so nobody is worried about getting ready for a race the next weekend. It’s nice to give everyone a bit of a break after a pretty hectic part of the season.”
Two Verizon IndyCar Series practices are on the schedule for Friday, each 45 minutes long and beginning at 10:40 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET. A third practice starts at 9:50 a.m. Saturday ahead of Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 1:55 p.m. All those sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. A same-day NBCSN qualifying telecast airs at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Sunday’s race airs live at 3 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.