(via Autosport) – James Hinchcliffe believes the work Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has undertaken in recent months will allow the team to threaten IndyCar’s leading squads in 2019.
Hinchcliffe finished only 10th in last year’s IndyCar standings, with his prospects hampered by his failure to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, which awards double points.
Robert Wickens, meanwhile, classified just one position back, despite his season being curtailed three rounds early due to the serious injuries he sustained at Pocono.
Hinchcliffe reckons SPM, which has now taken on title sponsorship from Arrow, is in a position to fight with Ganassi, Andretti and Penske on a regular basis.
“If you look at the improvement we made in 2018, that was step one,” Hinchcliffe told Autosport.
“We put together a five-year plan of how to make this team a consistent championship contender and all we’ve done over the winter is get better.
“We’ve moved personnel around, we’ve brought in some new people including a great replacement in the other car [ex-F1 driver Marcus Ericsson] with a lot of open-wheel experience.
“We’ve been developing a lot of things in the background since mid-way through last year, that we’ll start to see pay dividends now.
“So all the pieces are there so that we can be knocking on the door of the ‘Big Three’, and we’re really excited to get to St. Pete and see where everyone stacks up.”
Hinchcliffe, who topped last week’s 11-car test at Sebring, believes 2018’s statistics gave a misleading picture when identifying areas upon which to improve for this year.
“If you look at the raw data, it was superspeedways where we needed the most work,” he commented.
“But that’s skewed by the fact that we had our issue at Indy, Robbie crashed at Texas when he was running near the front, and then there was our double DNF at Pocono – but again while running up front.
“In fact, every type of track during the year, we were running up front but not necessarily at every venue.
“And I’d say street courses were actually our weakest, although we weren’t terrible.
“It’s just that relative to the others, I’d say our street course performance dropped compared with 2017, when it was probably our strongest type of track.
“So that’s definitely an area we want to correct – although of course improving at Indy is priority number one.
“There’s been a lot of time, lot of energy, a lot of effort spent on trying to get as quick as possible for when we get back to the Speedway.”