Q and A with James Hinchcliffe James Hinchcliffe, driver of the #9 NOCO/ProWorks Sierra Sierra Enterprises entry in the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, took time out ahead of Round 8 this weekend at the ‘Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto’, Friday 6th – Sunday 8th July, to give his thoughts on his home race and his chase for the championship – the 20-year-old Canadian second in the points to his team-mate Raphael Matos.
Q: How do you rate your chances of picking up a home victory this weekend?
James Hinchcliffe (JH): “I’d like to think that they’re pretty high. The team’s always given me a great car for street courses. It’ll be interesting returning to a street circuit this weekend given we opened with three in Las Vegas, Long Beach and Houston but we’re coming off the back of three straight road course events. We’ll see if the balance of power has switched on the street circuits – it’s definitely time we have someone beat Rafa (Matos) on those tracks and hopefully it’ll be me that does it!”
Q: What does it mean to you to be able to race in your home city?
JH: “Obviously it means a lot! Everyone loves the opportunity to race in their home city. A lot of people think it means added pressure but in all honesty we put so much pressure on ourselves anyway that it really doesn’t matter where you’re racing. It simply means that after the checkered flag falls and if you’ve won the race or even finished on the podium it just feels that little bit more special.”
Q: What makes the Grand Prix of Toronto stand-out in your opinion over some of the other cities the series visits in a season?
JH: “It’s really the atmosphere! All the Canadian races do well and Champ Car has such a great history and association with Canadian motorsport. In Toronto’s case the fans have always been really amazing and the fact that the city always puts on such a great event certainly means a lot to me. It’s a combination of everything though, the fans are great, the sponsors are fantastic and the track’s a lot of fun to drive. The atmosphere here is unbelievable and it’s been the same since the first race.”
Q: You didn’t have the best of races in Toronto last year qualifying ninth and finishing sixth overall – will that experience come into play this weekend?
JH: “I think so. As much as it’s a fun track to drive, the Toronto course is a tough one to race on. Last year was my first time racing there and it was tough to get to grips with a few of the corners and some of the surface changes, really in general trying to get into a rhythm on the race track. I’ve now got a season and a half’s experience behind me and I know I’m going to have a good car heading into the weekend so I don’t have to worry about that! I’ve got to focus hard on what I learned here last season and apply it to the present. I know they’ve made some surface changes and improvements to the circuit so I’m really anxious to see what’s been done.”
Q: You’re currently sitting second in the points to your team-mate, Brazil’s Raphael Matos, (201-168) with your rivals snapping at your heels. Is it a case of the best defense is to attack?
JH: “I think that’s fairly accurate. At this point we really just need to work on closing that gap to Matos and bag as many points as we can. As I’ve said previously though, the best way to do that is to go out and win races. A string of wins at this stage of the championship would be good for my title challenge as well as for gaining a mental advantage over some of the competition.”
Q: You’ve been one of the most consistent racers in the field this season, is there a difference in your driving compared to last year’s campaign?
JH: “I definitely think I’m driving better than I did last year and indeed probably better than ever before in my career. I came into the 2007 season a lot more focused and a lot more determined. I think by having a year of Atlantic competition under my belt I knew more of what I had to do to achieve success and now I’m implementing that knowledge.
“There’s no doubt I made some mistakes last season and it showed in my championship position but this year we’ve been relatively mistake free and realistically it’s just some of the little issues that have been holding us back in second place in the title fight and not vaulting us up to the top of the standings. That said, there’s still enough racing left this season to make a push for the title!”
Q: What has surprised you about the level of competition in Atlantic’s this season?
JH: “I’ve been impressed by the speed of some of the rookies, especially at the start of the season with guys like Robert Wickens and Carl Skerlong. Right out of the box some of these guys were competitive. It wasn’t until we hit the road courses last month that some of the more experienced drivers began to pull away a bit but now that we’re back onto a street circuit in Toronto it could close up again with tighter confines and shorter laps. It’s going to be an interesting weekend and I’m so happy to be in a series that’s so competitive as ultimately it helps you become a much better driver.”
Q: You ran some Champ Car tests with Forsythe Racing in the old Lola chassis at the end of last season. Are we likely to see you get some seat time in the new Panoz this year?
JH: “That’s certainly my goal! Obviously this year I’m not aided by the association with a Champ Car team but to the same extent I think I’ve been doing enough on-track to turn some heads and gather some attention from Champ Car teams and ultimately that’s where I’d like to end up. It’s a matter of opportunity but I’d love to get some running in the off-season.”
Q: While keeping one eye on your 2007 Champ Car Atlantic Championship ambitions, what are your aspirations for 2008 and beyond?
JH: “To be honest I’m not looking that far ahead at the moment. I’m so focused on what I’m doing in the Atlantic championship and realistically the better I do here then the more opportunities I’ll hopefully create for the future. Once we’re done in mid-August I’ll look around. Obviously Champ Car’s somewhere I’d like to go but if I don’t win the title and the $2million prize then there’s a pretty big barrier in the way there. I’m not counting anything out though.
"Hopefully I’ll be back in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in the off-season driving for A1 Team Canada. That will help keep me sharp and that could potentially open up some leads in Europe. The bottom line is I want to be racing next season – basically anything with four wheels I’m willing to drive!"
Round 8 of the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic Championship starts in Toronto at 10am EST on Sunday 8th July. The race will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Wednesday 11th July at 5pm EST.