James Hinchcliffe hasn’t had the best start to 2016, but the “Mayor of Hinchtown” is hoping to jump-start his campaign with a strong performance at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, an event where he scored his first Verizon IndyCar Series podium in 2012.
Ahead of this weekend’s race, he sat down with IndyCar.com to talk about the event, his season and answer a few offbeat questions about life as an INDYCAR driver.
INDYCAR.com: Can you describe your 2016 season so far?
HINCHCLIFFE: The season’s gone great. Straight to plan. Two victories from pole with two fastest laps …
Oh wait, that’s not how it’s gone. I take all of that back.
Certainly, the season hasn’t produced the results we were hoping for. But at the same time, there’s a lot of positives to take away from it. We had a great qualifying at St. Pete and had good pace in the race. We were just unfortunately a lap down after getting hit in the first turn. I think that there’s a lot to be taken away from that weekend and a lot learned and shows that we’re going to be competitive, certainly among our fellow Honda teams and hopefully among the whole field.
Phoenix, itself, was a bad deal from the get-go. The practice crash really put us on the back foot. We missed qualifying and missed most of the warmup and didn’t really have a good car in the race, just to call a spade a spade.
It’s not been the fairytale start that we were hoping for, but I think the team is executing pretty well. I think the car is pretty quick and, hopefully, we can start posting good results in the near future to get our points tally going for the year.
INDYCAR.com: Speaking of results in the near future, we’re heading to Long Beach this weekend. How vital to the season is coming away with a good result?
HINCHCLIFFE: It’s pretty big, to be honest. It’s not a track that treated the Hondas very well last year, but I think when you look at the elements of that racetrack that were causing us the problems, the new (aero) kit has addressed a lot of that and I’m a lot more confident coming into the weekend than if we hadn’t had the opportunity to make some changes. It’s a track that statistically I’ve run well at. It’s treated me very well over the years and I just hope we can keep that going and get a strong result on the board.
INDYCAR.com: What is it about Long Beach that makes it such a must-win race? If Indy car racing had major championships like golf, a lot of people point to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as one of them and a race they’d like to win after the Indy 500.
HINCHCLIFFE: I think it’s just the same as a lot of the other events that have that kind of stigma. It’s history. We’re heading into the 42nd running of that race (and 33rd for Indy cars). I think other than Indy, it’s the longest one we have on the calendar. It’s just one of those historic venues. It used to hold Formula One races. The best of the best raced there and won there in Indy cars. The atmosphere is just so vibrant. You’re on the water and the fans come out in droves. It’s such an event. It’s everything, even down to the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race. It’s got this all-encompassing feel. There’s something for everyone and the track is awesome. As a street course, you’re limited by what the local surroundings give you, but having unique elements like the fountain and the hairpin really make it extra special.
INDYCAR.com: That’s enough about racing. Let’s get to some more fun (and important) questions now.
Obviously, you’re the Mayor of Hinchtown and have a vast staff of people who tend to your every need. But what chore or errand do you do yourself that would surprise the fans?
HINCHCLIFFE: Oh, wow. I do my own laundry and ironing. Would that surprise people?
INDYCAR.com: Probably. You should have people to do that for you, though.
INDYCAR.com: It’s an election year, and though you’re probably running for Mayor of Hinchtown again, if President of INDYCAR was an electable job, what would you promise the voters as a candidate?
HINCHCLIFFE: I’d promise to have the fastest cars with the best drivers and the coolest tracks.
INDYCAR.com: If you could go back and get a do-over for any race you’ve ever been in, what would it be?
HINCHCLIFFE: I would redo Long Beach in 2014. I would avoid that wreck (with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden) and win the race.
INDYCAR.com: Finally, what do you think your reputation is in the sport?
HINCHCLIFFE: (Laughing) That’s got to be one of the greatest questions I’ve ever been asked. I don’t even know how to answer that. That’s a tough one. I have no idea what people really think of me.
I certainly hope they think of me as a tough competitor who's respectful on track and a hard racer. Someone who's appreciative of the position he’s in. Maybe, I’m sure, I’m considered a little bit of a jokester to some people. Class clown, maybe. But that’s fine. Somebody has to take that role.