James Hinchcliffe Q and A - Atlantic Attack Montréal, Canada - A1 Team Canada racer James Hinchcliffe announced on Tuesday that he will return to the Champ Car Atlantic Championship for his sophomore season in 2007 competing for Sierra Sierra Enterprises. The 20-year-old from Toronto, who finished 10th overall and top Canadian in his rookie season with one Atlantic victory to his credit, joins the expanded two-car line-up at Sierra Sierra alongside fellow A1GP racer, Brazilian Raphael Matos.
Having announced his plans for the regular 2007 season, Hinchcliffe's immediate focus switches back to race duties for A1 Team Canada as he prepares to fly out to New Zealand on Saturday ahead of Round 6 of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport at the all-new 3.5km Taupo Circuit, 19th-21st January.
A race winner in Formula BMW, Star Mazda and the Champ Car Atlantic Championship, James would love to take a win in his rookie A1GP season, the Canadian standout having come close in just his second A1GP race weekend in Round 2 in the Czech Republic last October before being bumped from the lead with five laps to go.
Back in the Canadian race seat for Rounds 6 and 7 in New Zealand and Australia respectively, James took time out before his departure down-under to preview his Atlantic season and progress in A1GP.
Q: This is the first time you've had a sophomore season in your career, what are your expectations for the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic Championship now that you've signed with Sierra Sierra Enterprises?
James Hinchcliffe (JH): "If I was to say anything less than winning the championship I'd be lying! It's the first time I've ever come back for a second season in a series so I'll be able to take everything I learned, which trust me was a lot, from last year's championship and put it to good use. Partnering with a team like Sierra Sierra, who've been winning races in every season they've competed, is a phenomenal match-up for me and I hope we'll have a lot of success together."
Q: Having been part of Forsythe Racing's rookie four-car effort last season are you looking forward to being part of a smaller, more established operation this time round?
JH: "It's more of a family atmosphere at Sierra Sierra and to be honest that's more what I've been used to coming up through the ranks with the likes of AIM Autosport in Formula BMW and Star Mazda. The big corporate-run race set-up at Forsythe was definitely something new to me last season so I feel a little like this year I'm going back to my roots. I've met most of the Sierra Sierra team throughout the course of last year and I know Richard Raeder (Team Manager) and David Empringham (Driver Coach) quite well so I'm really excited at the prospect of working with them!"
Q: As a proven race winner and a front-runner throughout last season's Champ Car Atlantic battle you must have had plenty of options open to you from competing teams so what was the decisive factor in making the commitment to Sierra Sierra for 2007?
JH: "There was a ton of interest that's for sure. Initially we worked on a deal to keep the continuity and return to the Atlantic Championship with Forsythe Racing but in the end of the day it didn't happen. Once word got out that I was a free agent there wasn't a team on the grid that I didn't have contact with. It's a nice feeling knowing that you're a valued commodity in a racing paddock. At the end of the day though, the combination of the team's pedigree, the engineering staff and the deal offered to me by Sierra Sierra was too good to turn down."
Q: Champ Car Atlantic drivers have given a good account of themselves in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport with the likes of yourself, Raphael Matos (A1 Team Brazil) and Graham Rahal (A1 Team Lebanon) all showcasing your abilities behind the wheel of the 550bhp A1GP car. Are there any similarities between the two cars and the driving style required to perform at the sharp end of the grid?
JH: "Being completely honest, I've been telling everyone I speak to that the A1GP car is essentially the anti-Atlantic car! The Swift Atlantic car has loads of grip and downforce but is really underpowered for the level of grip available. The A1GP car has less grip but tons of power with the 550bhp engine in the back! It really requires a different driving style from the Atlantic car. Ultimately I think it says a lot about the Atlantic drivers and our individual abilities that we've been able to adapt to these cars and race competitively in A1GP."
Q: You've been confirmed to race for A1 Team Canada in New Zealand and Australia, what are the major challenges that you face heading into the next two rounds?
JH: "First off I have to get myself re-acquainted with the A1GP car having not raced it in a while. The Taupo circuit in New Zealand is new to everyone while Eastern Creek in Australia is a new circuit to me at least. I'll have the benefit of running in the rookie session in New Zealand to get some extra track time but there's a lot to take in over the two events.
"While most of the teams and drivers will remain out there soaking up the sun between New Zealand and Australia I've got to get back to the United States to Florida for the first official pre-season Atlantic test. The next few weeks will be a serious test on my mind and body with lots of flying and different time zones to contend with but it's not going to hurt my air miles account either!"
Q: With 55 lead laps, a second-place podium finish and four points finishes from six starts, were you surprised at how competitive you were as a rookie through the opening three rounds of the 2006-07 A1GP season in Holland, the Czech Republic and China?
JH: "It was a bit of surprise, not least turning up in Holland and going fastest on the first day of practice to kick start the new season. We weren't as competitive as we'd have liked to have been when it came to race day at Zandvoort but we then went to Brno and Beijing and ran well. I quickly got over the initial surprise and now expect nothing less than a front-running effort each time I'm out in the car. I know the team and car are capable of racing at the sharp-end, as am I, so now it's a case of putting together the whole package and getting that first win of the season."
Q: Having had time to reflect on those performances while compatriot Sean McIntosh raced for Canada in Malaysia and Indonesia, will your approach change for New Zealand and Australia now that you're back in the race seat?
JH: "No I don't think so! Obviously what we were doing beforehand was working as we enjoyed outings at the front and scoring points. Qualifying I know is still a bit of a weak point for me as I haven't totally grasped the one-lap qualifying format yet but we haven't been doing too poorly with it but I recognize it's an area I need to improve upon. I've been doing some work to up my game in that department and hopefully that will show through when we get back out there in New Zealand."
Q: What's surprised you the most about competing in A1GP and how do you see A1 Team Canada stacking up against the opposition as the series enters the second-half of the season?
JH: "I think what surprised me the most was how many teams and drivers were actually capable of winning races. There's been a few dominating performances but there's still been quite a few race winners so far this year which is better for the series than having a couple of guys running away with it every weekend.
"It's great to see a variety of teams being capable of winning at each round and I feel the Canadian team's done well in comparison to the competition. I have no doubt we can do better so for the second half of the season I'd love to see us score more points, more podiums and it would be nice to get a win or two along the way as well."
SPEED will air all the action from Round 6 of the A1GP Series from New Zealand throughout Canada and America as a tape-delayed broadcast on Wednesday 24th January at 4pm EST.
Top-Ten A1GP Nations Standings after Round 5/12: 1st Germany (48), 2nd Great Britain (36), 3rd Mexico (34), 4th France (32), 5th New Zealand (31), 6th Malaysia (30), 7th Italy (26), 8th CANADA (22), 9th Switzerland (20), 10th USA (20)