(via Toronto Sun) – Canadian IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe is never far from the spotlight.
Whether he’s winning races (he has six career IndyCar seriesvictories), dancing on national television (he finished as a runner-up along with Sharna Burgess on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars in 2016), or living out dreams and nightmares at the Indianapolis 500 (a near-fatal crash during practice in 2015, winning the pole position at the 100th running in 2016 and last year failing to qualify for the prestigious race), there never seems to be a dull moment for the self-proclaimed Mayor of Hinchtown.
“It’s amazing how fast eight seasons have gone by,” the 32-year-old Oakville native said from Denver, where his team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, announced on Friday its longtime sponsor, Colorado-based Arrow Electronics, has expanded its role to become title partner, effectively changing the team name to Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“A lot of ups and downs and a lot of shuffling around,” Hinchcliffe added. “It’s amazing that I’ve been able to make a career this long out of it and hopefully there’s still many more seasons to come, but this feels like a home for me now.”
Guelph, Ont.’s Robert Wickens, who is rehabilitating in a Denver hospital after being paralyzed in a crash at Pocono last year, was on hand for Friday’s announcement inside Denver’s Pepsi Centre.
“We just want to reinforce as a company that when Robbie is in a position to come back and race full-time in Indycar, we want that seat there, ready for him,” Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports president Jon Flack said. “All the hard work and effort he’s putting in to make his comeback, we just want to reinforce that that seat is sitting there ready for him when he’s ready to make that leap.”
Hinchcliffe spoke to the Toronto Sun about a wide range of topics, including his new title sponsor, old friend and teammate Wickens’ long and emotional road back from injury, the NTT IndyCar Series season, which kicks off in less than two months, the one event he has circled on his calendar this season — a wedding ceremony — and who he’ll be rooting for at the upcoming NHL all-star game.
Q: Let’s start here: You have a new title partner in Arrow Electronics, sponsoring both yourself and new teammate Marcus Ericsson. That might not exactly move the needle in terms of uncontrollable excitement among casual racing fans, but this is extremely significant for you and your team. Why?
A: It’s been the first time in quite some time in a sport that was fractured for a long time, where one company has stepped up to sponsor both cars, to be the entitlement sponsor of the team itself. To show the faith that a company like Arrow has had in our partnership, and ultimately the faith they have in the Indycar series to continue to grow and be a successful venture for them, it’s not just good for us, it’s really good for the sport as a whole. We’re ramping up our technical integration with Arrow and some of the technical abilities that they have as a massive technology company and ultimately it’s going to benefit us, I think, in a lot of ways on track and off. For everybody here, it’s a huge day. For (team owners) Rick (Peterson) and Sam (Schmidt), I’m super-happy for them.”
Q: Robert Wickens is your childhood friend and teammate. His serious crash at Pocono last August has left him paralyzed from the chest down, but he is rehabbing in an attempt to one day walk again, and perhaps even step back into a race car. How emotional has Robert’s situation been for you?
A: It’s been massively emotional for the entire team. We’re a big family and obviously me and Robbie’s relationship goes back to childhood. To see your best friend go through something like that, it’s really hard. There’s no doubt about it. But one of the biggest things that’s helped me cope with it is how well he’s coping with it. It’s amazing to think that, with everything that he’s going through, he’s actually the one that’s helped me get through the emotional side of it more than anybody. He’s such a strong kid. He’s working harder than anybody else would. He’s so driven. It’s been awesome to see and then kind of be there for part of it. We’re excited to see where it ends. He gets better every day and he’s obviously super-motivated. It’s hard not knowing, but at the same time, whatever is possible, Robbie will make sure it happens.
Q: Like Robert, you have been involved in a serious crash that jeopardized your life and career. Have you been able to use your experiences as motivation or support for your teammate?
A: For sure. Especially in the early days when the situations were, I guess, a little more similar. There was definitely some friendly advice I could give him and some of my experience I could draw on to help out in certain situations. And obviously having Sam (who is a quadriplegic due to a racing accident) is huge in another way. I think he’s in a good spot in that sense. He’s definitely had a lot of support and he’s very grateful to every fan who has reached out … he pulls a lot of motivation and drive from that. Please keep up the support everybody, because Robbie hears it, he sees it and he really loves it.
Q: Do you believe, deep down, that Robert Wickens will one day race again?
A: You know what, man? I absolutely do, and I think he does as well. I don’t think you could get a guy like that out of bed in the morning if he didn’t think he was doing it for something, and it’s to get back in a race car. I believe that one way or another we’ll see him again behind the wheel.
Q: For the time being, you have a new teammate at Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Marcus Ericsson, a Swede who will cross the line from Formula One into IndyCar on a one-year contract beginning with the season opener at St. Petersburg in March. What is your early take on Marcus? I know you gave him one of your famous tours around the shop recently.
A: Honestly, he’s been great. There’s certainly a stigma among Formula One drivers and Marcus couldn’t be further from the stereotype that you’d expect out of a guy who has spent about half a decade in F1. He is very relaxed, very low key, but he’s a hard worker. He just kind of sits down and gets the job done. We got our first chance to drive together earlier this week and our feedback is similar. Our wants and desires from the car is similar. And he’s got a lot of pace, man. He might be a rookie in IndyCar, but like Robert, he’s certainly not a rookie in the motorsport world. He comes with a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of experience that’s going to benefit the team, that’s going to benefit me, and I fully expect him to be up to speed very quickly.
Q: You proposed to your Oakville high school prom date, Becky Dalton, last July while on a romantic boat ride in Muskoka on the Monday following the Honda Indy Toronto. Now that some time has passed, has she had a chance to reconsider? Seriously, though, how excited are you guys?
A: Honestly, man, so excited. I wish the wedding was tomorrow. We’ve had a blast planning it. It’s actually pretty much done. We’ve got invitations left to do and that’s about it. Not really any stress. No arguments. So I’m pretty sure I’m marrying the right girl if we can go through that without any disagreements or fights about it. The day itself is going to be great. Pretty small, up in Muskoka, just family and close friends. And it’s in the middle of the race season, so it’s not going to be too crazy, because we’ve got to get back to work shortly after.
Q: You are heading into your ninth IndyCar season, and recently set the fastest time among 11 drivers in testing on the short circuit at Sebring. What do you take from that, and how are you feeling in general heading into the new season?
A: We went into Sebring with a very specific test plan, it wasn’t even specifically chasing lap times at Sebring. It’s so easy to get derailed from those test plans and try and make the car better for that track on that day, but we really stuck to our guns and we, I think, accomplished some things that are really going to help open up our setup window at a lot of tracks this year. It was a problem that we had last season, kind of getting backed into a corner setup-wise, and I think we really found something that’s putting us in the right direction to open up that window a bit in terms of adjustability, which will only make us better when we go back to a lot of these tracks.
Q: You’ve been invited to the NHL all-star game weekend in San Jose next weekend. What’s your role there, and, more importantly, why isn’t Mitch Marner going to be there?
A: That’s a travesty. It was cool that (Auston) Matthews said he’d give up his spot if he could. It’s too bad. There’s a lot of guys in that situation, though, right? Only so many guys get the opportunity to do that. It’s a tough break. I’m going representing Honda. I’m obviously a hockey fan. I got to do the Winter Classic with Firestone and Bridgestone a few years ago and now I get to do the all-star game with Honda and it’s going to be great. We’ve got several activities planned, maybe try to do some stuff with some of the players, maybe go bug (Predators defenceman P.K.) Subban a little bit. It’s be a lot of fun.
Q: Will the Leafs win the Cup this season?
A: If I say that and they don’t, then I’m going to feel like an idiot. But, it doesn’t look terrible.
Q: This is not your first involvement in a sporting event. You took in the NBA all-star festivities in Toronto in 2016, and a few nights ago you drained the ceremonial first shot during a Nuggets game in Denver. If James Hinchcliffe was an athlete in another sport, what sport would that be?
A: That’s a tough one. Obviously, just being a Canadian boy and just being on the ice, it would be awesome to be good enough to do that. But I’ve got a lot of respect for all athletes. I used to kind of enjoy watching baseball, but I didn’t really understand baseball, then I made some friends that play it and I kind of understood the game a whole lot more and I have a whole new respect for that game. I’ve obviously always respected hockey and hockey players. When I moved to the States (Indianapolis), it was football and I know a lot more about those guys. Obviously basketball. If you make it to the top level in any sport, any elite athlete, it’s so impressive to watch. As an athlete, it’s always cool to see guys perform their craft and kind of learn a bit about it. I’m all into all of it, man.
Q: You must be a bit of a baller, though, right? You can’t just go up to the line and drain a basket like you did in Denver if you don’t know a little bit about the game, right?
A: I don’t know, man. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Q: Aside from working around the clock as a pro auto racer to prepare for the upcoming season and getting ready for your wedding, what are you doing these days in terms of a hobby or otherwise?
A: Who’s got time for hobbies? My other passion is scuba diving and I got the opportunity back in November, Becky and I took a trip with some friends from Indianapolis, got to go down to the Caribbean and do a bunch of dives, which is awesome to get back in the water. For me, it helps to just kind of disconnect and recharge a little bit. But it’s honestly been a really busy off-season for us. But we love it, that’s the nature of the game. That’s what we signed up for.