James Hinchcliffe might not remove this special ring from his finger for quite a while.
Herff Jones representative Ken Keltner, who was joined at the event at the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports facility Sept. 30 by Hulman Motorsports chief revenue officer Jay Frye, presented Hinchcliffe with the 34th starter’s ring for the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
Hinchcliffe qualified 24th in the No. 5 Arrow Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, but sustained a serious thigh injury in a crash in practice May 18 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ryan Briscoe stepped in and drove to a 12th-place finish in the May 24 race, and he shared driving duties with Conor Daly the remainder of the season while Hinchcliffe recovered.
“I was looking at my shelf at home where I keep the other (four) rings and was thinking, ‘Man, I’m missing one and it’s always going to bug me,’ ’’ Hinchcliffe said of the memento given to each of the 33 Indy 500 starters every year. “It’s just so generous of Herff Jones to give me one and it makes me feel a little more connected to the race that I didn’t get to do.”
He was cleared to drive by INDYCAR medical officials and returned to the No. 5 car Sept. 28 for an offseason team test at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
“It’s been the light at the end of the tunnel with some good days and bad days in between. Everything went perfect on that day,” said Hinchcliffe, who will make his 75th Verizon IndyCar Series start in the second race of the 2016 season. “I could have gotten back in the car at Sebring, a track I’ve done 8,000 laps around, and it still would have been the best day ever. The fact that we got to do it at Road America, which is my favorite road course in the country, made it that much sweeter.”
On-track testing continues for drivers
Hinchcliffe will get additional seat time Oct. 5 when he joins Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a team test day. He also will join KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais on Oct. 14 at Sebring International Raceway for a Firestone tire test. Both events are not open to the public.
“It’s great to feel that we’re back with the program. Now it’s business as usual,” Hinchcliffe said. “Now we’re going testing, we’re developing for Honda, we’re developing for Firestone. For me, it’s just so nice to be contributing again.
“I could only contribute only so much from the (timing) stand. Because we were going through a year when we were learning a new car, a new aero kit, I’m fortunate and grateful that I was able to be there for a lot of that and see the development.
“If I had been unplugged after the Indy GP and plugged back in at Road America, so many things happened and so much development happened that I would have been way behind the eight ball and trying to catch up.
“Hopefully, now I can add my feedback and push us to that next step.”
Busy offseason for Bourdais continues this weekend
This weekend, Bourdais will rejoin Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship finale at Road Atlanta, and the following weekend he’ll co-drive a Walkinshaw Racing entry in the second round of the V8 Supercars PIRTEK Enduro Cup at Bathurst, Australia.
“It’s great, but also when I started to look at all the schedule and signed up for I was like, ‘Wow, that’s going to be a heck of an off-INDYCAR season.’ But it’s great. I always relish the challenges and getting to drive different cars.”
The No. 5 Action Express entry, which earned the Prototype team title in 2014, is tied for second with the companion No. 31 car co-driven by Max Papis, Dane Cameron and Eric Curran in the standings.
“Pretty much, the No. 5 car needs to win the race to have a shot at winning the championship, so there are going to be some pretty high pressures for sure leading up to this,” said Bourdais, who co-drove the No. 5 Prototype to victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring in March and a second-place overall finish in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.
“It’s always good to drive with these guys at Action Express. It was good to discover a new team in Australia with Lee Holdsworth and we had a pretty decent weekend (at Sandown).”
Calgary coming along and other notes
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Ric Peterson said plans are progressing for Calgary, Alberta, to host a Verizon IndyCar Series race targeted for September 2017. … Hinchcliffe has plans to travel in mid-October to Germany to watch the DTM season finale at Hockenheimring. … NBCSN’s total day and primetime viewership for the third quarter of 2015 (June 29-September 27), which included the final five races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, jumped 130 percent over the same period in 2014. It is the cable network’s second most-watched quarter behind the first quarter of 2014, which featured live coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics. … Danny Sullivan, the 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1988 Indy car champion, will join United Autosports drivers and co-owners Zak Brown and Richard Dean in co-driving in the Historic Sportscar Racing Classic 24 at Daytona on Nov. 12-15 at Daytona International Speedway.