James Hinchcliffe’s off-season has been far from quiet as the 2011 IndyCar Series ‘Sunoco Rookie of the Year’ is fulfilling a packed diary of engagements. The Canadian, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Monday, sat down to review a busy few days that included the news of Newman/Haas Racing, who James raced for in 2011, closing its IndyCar operation:
Q: You received the news about Newman/Haas Racing closing its IndyCar team just as you were getting ready to fly to England on Thursday – what was your immediate reaction?
James Hinchcliffe (JH): “Immediate reaction was shock, for sure. I obviously was somewhat aware of the fact that the team had recently received some bad news about potential sponsors, but it’s Newman/Haas. You just sort of always assume that they will find a way to make it work. The cars had been ordered and the engineers were into their preparation. So for sure it was a shock.”
Q: Were you surprised given how competitive you and Oriol Servia were throughout the 2011 season?
JH: “I was surprised for a lot of reasons! You always like to think that good results will make the sponsor search easier, and I am sure it does, but this is such a multi-faceted sport and business that it takes more than that and if all the pieces don’t fit then these things can happen.”
Q: You ultimately claimed Newman/Haas Racing’s final title in IndyCar competition, winning this season’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ mantle. How much pride do you take in that accomplishment?
JH: “It meant a huge amount to me before, but it probably means even more now. To do that having missed the first race and coming back from a huge deficit after Indy was a tremendous accomplishment for the team. Now knowing that it will be their last title - and this team has won a lot of them - makes it a little extra special. I am just so grateful for the opportunity that Sprott and Newman/Haas gave me this year to be in IndyCar and to give me the tools needed to accomplish that. That was our goal from the outset and it’s a big point of pride that we pulled it off.”
Q: How does the news affect your plans for the 2012 season?
JH: “Well after a season like the one we had, there was certainly some interest from around the paddock. It was a very flattering thing, really. For sure initially continuing with Newman/Haas was the likely option, but it was only one option. There were others and now with that one off the table we will begin to explore some of the others.”
Q: Sunday night saw you attend the prestigious Autosport Awards in London, England for the first time in your career. Was it as good as you hoped having been nominated in the category of ‘Rookie of the Year’?
JH: “Absolutely! That event is something that I have read about for years and I have heard tons of stories from people who have been about what a great night it is. The nomination alone was, again, a very flattering thing and something that I was very proud of. We were in some pretty good company and it’s nice when people you respect in the sport recognize something you’ve done. I had an absolute blast, it was a riot of an evening - I got to meet some people, catch up with some people - just a great night.”
Q: What was the highlight of the night for you and did you get a chance to catch up with anyone else from the IndyCar community attending?
JH: “Honestly the whole night was a highlight! There is such a feeling of camaraderie in the room and everyone is there to have a good time. The back-and-forth going on up on stage was hilarious! I did get to catch up with Dario. His table was bread-throwing distance from mine, so you had to have your guard up at all times!”
Q: Your schedule then took you to Milton Keynes yesterday for the Dan Wheldon Memorial Kart Race. The entry list read like a who’s who of the world of motorsport! How much fun was it?
JH: “The Kart race was awesome! Huge credit to Johnny Mowlem for organizing it, because it turned out better than anyone thought and was such a blast. It was freezing cold and the track was so slick, but everyone was there to have fun, no one took it too seriously, it really is exactly the kind of event Dan would have loved. It was truly an honor to be a part of it and bang wheels with some great drivers in a completely stress free environment!”
Q: You’re wrapping up a busy few days by flying to Brazil today for the Granja Viana 500 kart race – how did that opportunity come about?
JH: “Ya, I don’t exactly know what people mean by off season! It’s been pretty flat out since the season ended. The offer to do Granja came from (Indy Lights driver) Victor Carbone who has an associating with one of the teams. He hadn’t even finished asking the question and I told him that I would go because, again, this is one of those events that I have read about for years, looked like a ton of fun, and I have always wanted to take part in.
“I really have just been so fortunate the last little while to get these opportunities. So I’m looking forward to getting down there, getting back into a more serious kart race for the first time in a while and on top of that, a few days in Brazil is a nice break from surviving December weather back home!”
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