LOS ANGELES – James Hinchcliffe overcame an Olympic challenge on Monday night's "Dancing with the Stars." On Week 3 of Season 23 om the ABC hit competition show, the Verizon IndyCar Series star bested swimmer Ryan Lochte in a “faceoff” challenge to win immunity.
Under the different format Monday, two couples performed the same style of dance to different songs. The couple earning the higher combined judges’ scores received immunity and is not subject to elimination tonight when the judges’ scores are combined with fan voting to determine which of the 12 couples will not advance to Week 4.
Hinchcliffe and pro partner Sharna Burgess (#TeamStopAndGo), performing the cha cha, received a combined score of 29 out of a possible 40, to 25 for Lochte and partner Cheryl Burke. After the performance (watch it below), Hinchcliffe told IndyCar.com it wasn't as easy as it looked.
"I'll be the first to admit, I struggled with this one all week," he said. "We sold it. That's all that matters."
Lochte had strong praise for his faceoff competitor. "He's the best (celebrity) guy dancer here, so going up against him, it was a challenge," Lochte said.
Hinchcliffe and Burgess danced to "Big Trouble" by Outasight, while Lochte and Burke's cha cha was set to Jason Derulo's "If It Ain't Love."
According to Hinchcliffe, rehearsals in the past week were rough. "Sharna had to put up with a lot of me stressing. I had my 'stress face' (on) a lot for whatever reason. We never really got to the bottom of it."
Burgess smiled, "I would like to add that James' 'stress face' is still very sweet."
Hinchcliffe praised his partner’s patience for continuing to work with him through an up-and-down week.
"We came in for camera blocking (Sunday) and it went really well,” said the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver whose score of 29 was fourth best on the night. “We felt really good about it and we came in this morning and did a couple of runs and it was awful, not getting it at all. Somewhere in between dress rehearsal and show time, we were rehearsing in the back room of the studio just trying to put it together and we managed to do it. She was very patient with me this week and, after the dance, (we’re) thrilled with how it turned out.”
Hinchcliffe wore a bright blue suit and black shirt for the performance. The cha cha requires “sexy” hip movements that the 29-year-old Canadian wasn’t sure he could execute successfully.
"I was shocked I was able to move my hips like that, that's for sure,” he said. “I knew that was going to get us bonus points, if we could pull it off."
Added Burgess, "Honestly, James wowed me again tonight in the live performance. It was leagues ahead of what we did in that dress rehearsal and even Val (Chmerkovskiy, the pro who dances with gymnast Laurie Hernandez) came up to him and said, 'Man, I'm going to be honest. Your dress rehearsal sucked but you crushed it in the show.' I love Val for his honesty. It's the truth.
"We came in today and something wasn't clicking; it wasn't working. Really, it's a testament to us as a team and James as a person in knowing how to get him out of that funk and able to perform the cha cha tonight and I could hear the judges wowing as we were dancing in front of them. It was amazing."
Hinchcliffe agreed, "That was a fun moment."
Retired NFL player Calvin Johnson Jr. and partner Lindsay Arnold scored highest on the night, a 32 with their Viennese waltz. Hernandez and Chmerkovskiy were second with a 31 for their tango. Terra Jole and partner Sasha Farber were third at 30, but are in danger of being eliminated tonight because they lost their faceoff with Johnson and Arnold in the Viennese waltz.
Viewers didn't get to hear judges' comments because of the abbreviated show, shortened to one hour due to the presidential debate that followed the live broadcast.
"I would have loved to have heard what they had to say,” Hinchcliffe said of the judges. “It's always nice to know what they actually thought about it more than just the numbers, but that wasn't the name of the game tonight. I thought the name of the game was to go out and out-dance your competitor and get immunity and we managed to do that."
Since they are safe on the show for another week, Burgess said she and Hinchcliffe are free tonight to "relax and not worry about a thing and Wednesday we go back to work. We're going to enjoy immunity while we got it!"
The two-hour results show airs at 8 ET tonight on ABC. Week 4 competition airs live at 8 p.m. ET Oct. 3, with the results show airing the next evening, also at 8 p.m. ET.
Order #TeamStopAndGo merchandise here.
Watch Hinchcliffe and Burgess’ cha cha below.
Hinchcliffe and Burgess were also featured on a segment of "ET," when the professional dancer/choreographer visited the Verizon IndyCar Series driver at his place of work, Sonoma Raceway, for the 2016 season finale. Hinchcliffe gave Burgess a ride around the road course in the INDYCAR Experience two-seat Indy car. Watch the "ET" segment on it below.