" 'Hey, James, haven't spoken with you in a while but do you have tickets to the Indy this year?' " the gregarious Firestone Indy Lights driver says. "I wish I had a huge chunk I could give to everybody but we're limited and we still want the race to be supported so go and buy the tickets. They're very reasonable and worth every penny because it's a good show."
Partly, that's why the weekend event is so popular – it's a good show as Torontonians shed the layers of clothing and lap up the summer sun along the Lake Ontario circuit. Hinchcliffe, a Toronto native who was born the same year the city hosted the first open-wheel race on the streets (1986), also will have the opportunity to compete on the course. He'll drive the No. 7 Hinchtown/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car in the Grand Prix of Toronto on July 11.
"Torontonians are such big races fans. We loved that event, lived and breathed it since '86 when it started," he said, referring to the CART- and Champ Car-sanctioned race that ended in '07. "It used to be Indy car and now IndyCar is back. We're not picky. It's a unified series; we just love open-wheel racing and love that it's coming back.
"I think everyone in the town was gutted that we didn't make the calendar, but that's understandable. I think everyone is just extra pumped for this year because they've had a year to think about it. I've been to every one since I was 18 months old. My dad's a huge race fan and he used to take us there as a family and then his company used to get a suite so we had VIP treatment a couple of times."
Hinchcliffe said the 11-turn temporary course is mentally challenging and physically demanding.
"Being able to race there again is awesome. The track is quite cool for a street circuit; it has a couple of really quick corners heading onto the front straight in Turns 10 and 11," he said. "Then you have some really good passing opportunities heading down Lakeshore into Turn 3.
"Traditionally, it puts on a really good show. It's a challenging track because there are a lot of surface changes, high speed and low speed. It's a tough one to get your head around, but it's fun for the driver."
He also has high marks for the city (though Hinchcliffe isn't paid by the ministry of tourism) for first time or first-time-in-a-long-time visitors.
"The whole city just comes alive when the race is there," he said. "The Hockey Hall of Fame is a cool thing. You have to go to the CN Tower, go up the glass elevator. Because of the diversity, you want good Greek food you can find it. Japanese, Chinese, Italian, we have it all. It's cool to explore the city. What's cool about it is it's not just the race."