Thursday, 12 February 2015

"A season of change" - James Hinchcliffe looks ahead to 2015

A new year means a new racing season, new expectations and new challenges. For some, it also means a new team, and that's exactly the case with James Hinchcliffe. After three years with Andretti Autosport, the likeable Canadian has moved across to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, returning to the team that gave him his Indy Lights d├ębut in 2009 .

Since 2012, SPM has consistently finished in the top five of the championship with Frenchman Simon Pagenaud. Now with Pagenaud moving to Penske, Hinchcliffe hopes achieve what his predecessor came so close to achieving - a championship win.

"For sure that’s the goal," he says. "This team has done an incredible job the last three years and they want to keep growing."

Although producing strong form and remarkable giant killing acts against the likes of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, the team has suffered during the off season with a series of high profile departures. As well as Pagenaud, his race engineer Ben Brentzman and team manager Rob Edwards have both left the team.

Despite this, Hinchcliffe remains confident the team will stay at the front of the field.

"It might not happen over night" he concedes, "a lot has changed with but I think that we can really be as competitive as anyone."  

Hinchcliffe wont be the only driver for the team in 2015, with a second driver expected to be announced soon. It was initially believed that Mikhail Aleshin would continue with the team this year. But with the young Russian now being confirmed for SMP's ELMS programme the team are on the lookout for a second driver, with many names floating around to take his place.

"He did a great job and I think his second year would’ve been even better." Hinchcliffe said about Aleshin, "continuity is great in a race team, so it’s really too bad we can’t keep that element the same."

No matter who the team sign, Hinchcliffe will lead the team, a different situation to what he experienced at Andretti Autosport where he shared a stable with the likes of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti.

During his time with Andretti the 2011 rookie of the year amassed three wins and a further four podiums. However, after finishing eighth in both 2012 and 2013, Hinchcliffe slipped down to 12th in the standings last year.

"It was very frustrating, largely because we were in a position to win at a bunch of races but they didn’t play out, for a variety of different reasons," he says. "I think we accomplished a lot as a team but obviously not with the results that we wanted."

A stand out moment in his difficult year was when he suffered a concussion leaving him facing a race against time to make the Indianapolis 500 field.

He made the race though and qualified on the front row of the grid, ensuring the injury became an instant memory.

"I was so incredibly lucky that I was able to get back into the car so quickly," he recalls. "We qualified on the front row and had a shot to win the race. After the 500 I knew that it wasn’t going to be a problem for the rest of the season".

Reflecting on 2014, 'The Mayor of Hinchtown', as he is also known said "It’s bittersweet for me. I think we accomplished a lot as a team but obviously not with the results that we wanted."

"I took a lot out of the season personally," he continues, "I think that I developed as a driver and that is what I carry into ’15 and beyond."

Looking ahead to the 2015 season, a change of team wont be the only thing different for Hinchcliffe. This season will also see the introduction of manufacturer aero-kits, something he thinks will have a big effect.

"I think it’ll have a big impact. I think we are going to see very different looking cars, faster speeds and hopefully still good racing," he predicts. "No doubt, this is going to be a season of change."

After a bitterly long off-season, in which Hinchcliffe has filled with testing, media and sponsor appearances, and an appearance at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, that 'season of change' is almost upon us.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar season begins on March 29 with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Hinchcliffe will be looking to get his year off tot he best possible start by emulating his 2013 win on the streets of the Florida city.

Read the full interview with James Hinchcliffe HERE 

All images - IndyCar Media

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