Hinchcliffe set for milestone 100th Indy car start

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NEWTON, Iowa – James Hinchcliffe will turn a century on Sunday.

The 30-year-old Canadian is set to make his 100th Verizon IndyCar Series start in the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway.

With five career wins – the third of which came in 2013 at Iowa when he raced for Andretti Autosport – and 13 podiums in his career to this point, the seventh-season veteran wants what any driver wants: more.

“I think it’s crazy to think that we’re a hundred races in, to be honest,” said Hinchcliffe, who qualified ninth today in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. “It certainly doesn’t feel like that. It’s amazing how time flies. I think any competitor would say they wished they had more at this point, but that’s kind of the nature of Indy car racing of this modern era.

“It takes a bunch of seasons of experience before you’re really ready to be challenging for wins and championships. I feel like I’m finally at that point. Hopefully, the next hundred races will be a little more prosperous than the first hundred.”

An adventurous 2016 that went from scoring the pole position for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil to being runner-up in Season 23 of “Dancing with the Stars,” Hinchcliffe’s surging popularity has set him up as an unofficial carrier of the torch when older favorites such as Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves retire from Verizon IndyCar Series competition. The Brazilians are both racing Indy cars for the 20th straight season.

“Anything we need to do to help the series grow,” Hinchcliffe said. “If down the road in the future I can say that I’m celebrating my 20th season in INDYCAR, that’s certainly something we can be proud about and that’s the goal. Those guys are tremendous ambassadors for the sport. We certainly hope that is something we can do as they move on.”

A strong championship contender in junior categories, the 2010 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires runner-up reflected on the steepest jump he’s encountered over his previous 99 starts.

“The biggest thing is just the adjustment you have to make coming up from the junior categories,” said Hinchcliffe, whose popularity has also swelled since he became the self-proclaimed mayor of fictional Hinchtown.

“Coming up, you have maybe two or three guys tops you race against for the championship in a given year, but when you get to INDYCAR you realize those two or three guys from every year for the last 10 years are all in one spot. The competition level is just so, so high. We see that every weekend just how close and how tight it is. You see that with how many different winners we’ve had over the course of a season.

“That’s one thing that, I think, throws a lot of people off guard when they get to this level – is just how competitive it is and how hard it is to win here.”

Put on the spot to identify the crowning achievement of his career thus far, Hinchcliffe called on his rookie campaign when he started at the second race of the year with Newman/Haas Racing – in what would be the legendary team’s final season – and still wound up being the Verizon IndyCar Series’ top newcomer.

“I think winning rookie of the year in 2011 is right up there, just because we came into the season late,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was a really penny-pinch operation at the time, especially on our car.

“(We) crashed out of a double-points race (at the Indy 500) and managed to still come back and do it. That was also the year we had a lot of really good rookies, too – JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, James Jakes, Ana Beatriz – it was a really big rookie class that year. To come in a race behind everybody else and take it in the last event of the season, that was something pretty special.”

The Iowa Corn 300 begins at 5 p.m. ET Sunday and airs live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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