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Interview With James Hinchcliffe – Winner of The Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg

Q. How does it feel to get your first win?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It’s awesome. There’s been a lot of talk about it in the off-season, when that first one was going to come, what we had to do to get there. My answer was always the same. We had to minimize the mistakes. The team is good, the car is good, the engineers are good. We proved last year the team is capable of winning. It’s down to me on any given Sunday to minimize mistakes.

We capitalized on restarts. The last restart was on blacks, everyone around us was on reds. Helio made a mistake. I thought I would lead for a couple laps, but he would catch up. For that many laps on technically the slower tires took everything out of me.

I was so happy to get it done and get Go Daddy its first win in IndyCar, Chevrolet back in Victory Circle, one, two, three on the podium, podium sweep. My teammate on the podium. It’s just a hell of a day.

Q. Michael was in here a little while ago and he said he knew with 10 laps left he wasn’t worried. In those 10 laps, did you think you had it won?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I’m glad he was calm about it (laughter).

It wasn’t till about four to go, I opened up a little bit of a gap. All weekend we really struggled out of the last corner. Obviously that leads onto the longest straightaway and best passing opportunity. Those black and white cars were really quick in that part of the track.

For me the focus was getting out of Turn 10. I knew no matter what I did I was going to be slow compared to him out of the last corner. It was just being absolutely picture perfect lap after lap. I had a couple more overtakes than he did. With four to go I opened up enough of a gap that I could save the fuel I need to save and not make any mistakes.

Man, it’s the realization of a dream, being a winner in IndyCar. Especially for Canada it’s really cool.

Q. There’s been a lot of discussion after this win about personality, for obvious reasons. Michael Andretti said you’re one of the great ones. Where do you see your personality fitting into IndyCar and does this first victory give you a chance to amplify that to the fan base?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: We’ll see. I think that fans certainly like a winner. Now we can call ourselves that. Hopefully it’s not the last one.

But I’ve always tried to be myself at the racetrack. I think some people at some points in my career thought that maybe I wasn’t taking my job seriously enough or something like that.

But I think when you look at the last three laps of this race, the pressure we were under, I made a couple tiny little errors sort of thing. But to bring it all back, keep our head down, hold off a guy like Helio, hopefully it proves that you can be a joker off the track but still get the job done on the track.

Like I said, we’ll see if the fans respond to it. Usually they like a guy that can win. Maybe this will help boost me up a little bit.

Q. Early reports are they’re tearing down Younge Street right now in the celebration.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I don’t know about that. But if that’s the case, probably catch a plane home and join them.

Q. You forged your own identity with Go Daddy. They’ve invested so much into the sport. How does it feel to be the one that gave Go Daddy their first victory?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I can’t tell you how much that means. They obviously took a big gamble on me. I’d only been in the series a year. We won Rookie of the Year, but hadn’t done tremendous things. For Andretti and Go Daddy to take that chance on us. We were in shouting distance of a win a few times last year. It was that last piece that was missing.

Today, beginning of the season, first race, to get that out of the way, get the Go Daddy car in Victory Lane for the first time, it’s awesome. Thankful for Bob Parsons and everybody at the company. Hopefully it’s a match they’ll carry on for a number of years to come.

Q. (No microphone.)

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Certainly following Danica was a big ask. I guess we put a lot of effort into making sure it wasn’t the guy driving Danica’s car. We really wanted to make it our own by playing off her last year, things like that. I hope now, especially after things like this, You’re the guy driving Danica’s car. Hopefully when we get to the races this year, it will be, That’s Hinch’s car.

Q. Now that you’re a contender, what does a contender need to become a champion?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Well, it’s race one. There’s 18 to go. It’s early to call anybody a contender or rule anybody out. It’s a good place to start.

To be a contender in this series is all about consistency. You cannot make mistakes. It’s so competitive, there’s so many guys willing to pounce on anything you do wrong, whether it’s in the pits, making a bad setup call or a driving error, people are going to take advantage of that.

So I think the guy at the end of the year, or girl, that made the least mistakes as a team on the whole, those are going to be the guys you’re going to see hoisting the championship trophy.

Q. Two years ago here you were going through the paddock waiting to make your series debut. Could you have imagined two years ago you’d be right here?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: No chance. No chance. What a difference 24 months can make. Even last year was such a difference in my first race with Go Daddy, Andretti Autosport. We qualified, finished in the top five. That was a good result for us. To come here 12 months later, especially when you think how our season ended, it was not a good end to our season. Fontana was just the worst, longest day of my life. It was so demoralizing going into the longest off-season in history with such a poor record finishing the season.

But we’ve got such a good group of guys on that car. It’s all the same crew we had last year. These guys worked so hard. Chevy did such a good job over the winter to come here and grab that first win for those guys as much as Go Daddy, it’s really cool.

Q. Talk about holding up the Canadian flag in Victory Lane, what that meant to you.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: For a small country population-wise, Canada produces some pretty good racing drivers. When you look at the list of guys from Canada that have made it to IndyCar, whether it’s Scott Goodyear, Jacques Villeneuve, Greg Moore, Paul Tracy, Alex Tagliani, Patrick Carpentier, not only did these guys make it from Canada to IndyCar, every single one of those guys are winners. A lot of guys come from the UK or Brazil and never make it to that win. There was a lot of pressure put on myself, never externally, nobody back home ever said anything, but to continue that tradition of Canadian winners, not just Canadian drivers.

That weighed on my mind a lot ever since I got the chance to get into an IndyCar. So now to add my name to that list means an awful lot for me. I’m just proud to do it for Canada.

Q. What was it that you did that caused Helio to go wide into turn one?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I’d like to say it was some masterful trickery. I think Helio got a little hot in there. It’s tough. That late in the race, the inside line gets dirty. I had to restart from both the inside and the outside at different points in the race, and it’s tough.

Being on new tires, on the outside, I was able to brake quite late. I saw him make the mistake and go wide. I’ll wait a couple laps, he’s on reds, I watched him walk away from me in the last stint. I figured he was going by. I was doing my own thing, trying to conserve my fuel and tires to make sure I could make it to the end. It’s a long stint at the end of the race there.

Ten laps into that stint, he’s still there, but he’s not attacking. So the big thing for me was just be absolutely inch perfect all the way around the track lap after lap. I knew I had a couple more overtakes, so that was going to help.

Yeah, at the end of the day it was just putting the focus in the right places at the right times. Those last four laps, like I said, we were able to gap it a bit and that’s when it kind of became real.

Q. Can you take us back to the day when Michael called you about the job. This was a car that Dan was supposed to drive. Danica had just left. The pressures. How did Michael call you?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Certainly I was shocked to get the call, if I’m honest. It wasn’t that long after the end of the 2011. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that somebody had to drive that car.

I was kind of floored when I got that car, that my name was on the short list. It was quickly established that they wanted me in the car and I very much wanted to be in the car, with essentially having lost my ride at Newman/Haas when they closed.

It hit me because it was a tremendous amount of responsibility I felt to honor Dan and do a good enough job to honor what he would have done in this car.

So to get the first win here in his hometown with his family here, who I’ve grown quite close to, it means so much more, to be honest. There’s nowhere that I would have rather had my first win I don’t think in this car than right here in St. Pete.

Q. Where were you when you got that call?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I was sitting at home contemplating life, thinking about what I was going to do in university (laughter).

Q. Did you get a chance to speak to any of the Wheldon family afterwards?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, I saw Holly (Wheldon). Holly and I are quite close. My girlfriend and her have become best friends.

It’s just so awesome. They’ve been so nice to me, so accepting of me being in this car. They feel like family now, they really do. It was a huge relief for me because before it was announced I guess someone let the Wheldons know. I got a text from Holly saying, Is it true you’re going to be in that car? I was so glad she texted me because I wanted to talk to her about it. She said the Wheldons couldn’t think of anybody better and they’re fully supportive of you.

I said, My trailer is your trailer, this is your car as much as anything. They’ve been huge supporters of me.

Q. Last 10 laps in particular, since the race was extended from last year, any extra concerns with you on blacks and him on reds?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah. It was kind of funny because they extended the race trying to eliminate fuel-saving racing. Street courses, cautions, the way it all plays out, we ended up saving fuel for the last stint by a good chunk. If it had been 10 laps shorter, we would have been flat out in the last 10. Ironic the way it unfolded.

I was trying not to focus that they added laps. At the end of the stint I didn’t think I would be leading with 10 to go. I didn’t think it was going to be an issue.

Q. You had vibration early on in the first stint. What was that?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: We were really rough on the red tires. It was a pretty big factor in the decision to run blacks in the final stint there. Just as the first stint went on, it just sort of developed a vibration, a sign of excessive wear. Nothing wrong with the tire, just the way our car was handling it.

When we did the second stint, the blacks were more consistent, even though they weren’t quite as quick. When we figured out how long the last stint was going to be, we had a used set. Obviously other guys did reds, held on with them. I don’t think our car could have done that. The decision to throw the blacks on at the end is absolutely what I think gave us the win here today.

Q. What is it about you and Craig?

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: He comes with so much experience. He’s been in the sport 20 years. He’s probably the most decorated engineer on pit lane. What I like about Craig is just how honest he is. Drivers and engineers have a tremendous habit of being completely full of BS and blaming everything on other people. He’s the first engineer I’ve worked with that when it was absolutely his fault, he was the first guy to put up his hand and admit it, and he was harder on himself that anybody else could have been.

That work ethic he brings to a program is just incredible. It motivates everyone around him. I’m working harder than I did last year. I thought I was doing a pretty good job last year. He brings that whole extra level. It’s just that last little bit you need to be at the front in this series.

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Posted by on March 25, 2013. Filed under Breaking News,Indy Car. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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