After a high-speed ride with Red Bull Air Race pilot Kirby Chambliss, James Hinchcliffe gets it.
He gets the sense of wide-eyed wonder and exhilaration that fans and VIPs show after taking a ride in the INDYCAR Experience two-seater or Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports, even though the two-seater isn’t as fast or nimble as the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda he drives in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Hinchcliffe encountered similar sensations when climbing from a two-seater aircraft moments after landing from a high-speed aerobatic ride Wednesday over the skies of Central Indiana. Chambliss, the Red Bull Air Race series points leader from Tucson, Arizona, will race with other top global aerobatic pilots at the Red Bull Air Race World Championship on Oct. 14-15 on a course over the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Hinchcliffe will return to the familiar surroundings of his Indy car this weekend for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis. Before that, he was able to enjoy the airborne ride provided by Chambliss.
“He said, ‘This is a two-seater plane; this is a dog compared to my race plane,’ which terrified me,” Hinchcliffe said with a smile after landing at Eagle Creek Airpark in Indianapolis. “But I get it. We get out of the two-seater (Indy car) and see people’s reaction, and we say, ‘Man, that’s only half as fast as the real thing,’ but now I have more of an understanding of that feeling from people.”
Chambliss ran Hinchcliffe through the full motions of competitive flight during the ride, including a variety of high-speed aerobatic maneuvers. While Hinchcliffe gripped the interior of the plane with white knuckles during the tricks, two-time world champion and veteran pilot Chambliss calmly sat behind him and described all his techniques from the cockpit.
It was nearly the same sensation Hinchcliffe has felt as he drove guests in the INDYCAR Experience two-seater on ovals, street circuits and road courses – just reversed, and with more dimensions.
“You’re seeing cornfields and houses and sky, cornfields and houses and sky in incredibly rapid succession,” Hinchcliffe said of the flight. “You don’t have a lot of the sense of speed, which is probably a good thing, to be honest, doing those tricks. Some of them look more dramatic from the outside than they feel from the inside because they do feel very dramatic from the inside, but he’s explaining what the plane is doing while we’re flipping and spinning, and it’s hard for me to picture what that looks like from the outside.
“An incredible experience. Just to be pulled in that many different directions with that kind of force for that amount of time was very, very cool. It’s incredible when he explains this thing doesn’t perform nearly as well as his race plane does. My respect for these guys, while already high, is even higher after experiencing something like that.”
Hinchcliffe also quizzed Chambliss on the ground about the technical aspects of the two-seat, single-engine propeller plane and about Chambliss’ race plane, which exceeds 200 mph and flies through air gates with cornering forces up to 12 Gs. There was common ground between two racers, comparing notes.
“It’s learning a lot about the airplane and how these things are capable of doing what they do,” Hinchcliffe said. “Who is brave enough to try these things for the first time? That was one of the questions I had. Test driving a new car is one thing, but if you’re test flying a new plane or trying a new trick, the consequences are a lot bigger. Just kind of picking his brain on that sort of thing.
“Super impressed. No doubt these guys are tremendous athletes and incredibly talented at what they do.”
But before the tech talk flowed, Chambliss started his post-flight debrief with words of encouragement for Hinchcliffe, who admitted to suffering from motion sickness during the wild ride.
“First, it was, ‘Don’t worry, Travis Pastrana threw up, too!’” Hinchcliffe said with a laugh about the action sports superstar. “That made me feel a little better.”
Hinchcliffe and the other Verizon IndyCar Series drivers take to the Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Illinois, for practice at 5 p.m. ET Friday. Verizon P1 Award qualifying starts at 7:30 p.m. with a final practice set for 10 p.m. All three sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, with NBCSN airing a delayed qualifying telecast at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Coverage of the 248-lap race begins live at 9 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.