Hinchcliffe eager for 'Dancing with the Stars' challenge

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James Hinchcliffe is used to on-track competition with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. But as he laces his shoes for Season 23 of “Dancing with the Stars,” Hinchcliffe is also competing with the legacy of Castroneves’ Mirror Ball Trophy-winning performances with partner Julianne Hough in Season 5.

“Sharna (Burgess, Hinchcliffe’s professional dance partner) definitely has her work cut out for her because the last INDYCAR driver that did this (Castroneves) did pretty well, and so my goal has to be to match that or else I’m going to get a ton of crap from everybody back in the paddock,” Hinchcliffe said today after the new “DWTS” cast was announced on “Good Morning America.”

“But my desire to win is matched only by my inability to dance, which makes for a pretty interesting combination. It should be fun and we’re going to try and have some fun. I’m looking forward to getting going.”

It won’t be long. “Dancing with the Stars” premieres at 8 p.m. ET Sept. 12 on ABC. Hinchcliffe was one of the 13 celebrities named to the cast, others including Olympic gold-medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez, swimmer Ryan Lochte, singer-songwriter Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Maureen McCormick, who portrayed Marcia Brady on the 1970s sitcom, “The Brady Bunch.” Hough, Castroneves’ professional dance partner in 2007, will serve as a judge this season.

Helio Castroneves and Julianne HoughAs for Castroneves, after winning in 2007 (shown at right) and competing again in an all-star cast on Season 15 in 2012, he’s ready to sit back, put his feet up and watch.

“Good luck, Hinch! It’s a lot of work, but a tremendous experience,” Castroneves said. “The pressure is intense in the race car and it’s every bit as real on the show.”

Castroneves’ advice to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver: “Be ready to work, but have fun at the same time.”

Hinchcliffe, a 29-year-old Canadian, is familiar with that strategy.  

He’s the mayor of the fictitious online city, Hinchtown, namesake for the microbrew Hinchtown Hammerdown and host of “The Mayor on Air,” a spontaneous, off-the-cuff podcast. So he’s got fun figured out.

Hinchcliffe is no stranger to hard work, either. He has four career Verizon IndyCar Series wins and was the pole sitter for the epic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May. He earned the prestigious pole position this year after battling back from life-threatening injuries sustained in a crash during Indy 500 practice in 2015.

Despite all that, Hinchcliffe is already feeling the pressure around his quest for the Mirror Ball Trophy.

“I can honestly say this will rank just above the Indy 500 as one of the most nerve-wracking things that I’ve ever agreed to do,” he admitted.

Even before today’s “Good Morning America” announcement, tension was increasing as “Dancing with the Stars” gossip sites speculated about Hinchcliffe’s participation and journalists searched for confirmation. Meanwhile, Burgess and an ABC camera crew were on-site and filming Saturday during the Firestone 600, when Hinchcliffe placed second behind Graham Rahal by a mere 0.008 of a second after leading a race-high 188 laps. The race was the closest in Texas Motor Speedway History and the fifth closest of any Indy car race.

The dancing competition pairs judges’ votes with those of viewers to decide who advances each week. Season 23 debuts on ABC at 8 p.m. ET Sept. 12 and concludes Nov. 22 with presentation of the cherished Mirror Ball Trophy to the winner. ABC is one of INDYCAR’s television partners and broadcast five Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2016, including the Indianapolis 500 for the 52nd consecutive year.

“It’s fantastic news that James Hinchcliffe has been named to the cast of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and we certainly recognize the significance of this opportunity for the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Hinch has been a phenomenal ambassador for INDYCAR since he entered the series and we all know how well he will represent our sport to the ABC audience this fall.

“We look forward to the support from Verizon IndyCar Series fans once the show begins as we know their votes will be instrumental in ensuring he stays on the show.”

From the fans