It’s been 10 months since James Hinchcliffe has gotten to race a Verizon IndyCar, but this weekend’s race at St. Petersburg will mark a long awaited return for the Canadian driver.
Hinchcliffe was injured in a horrific crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May while practicing for the Indianapolis 500. It was a near-fatal crash that had a broken suspension piece impale him through his car, causing the four-time IndyCar winner to lose 14 pints of blood. Hinchcliffe also suffered a number of upper thigh, pelvic and neck injuries, but throughout the months of recovery, he has often credited the Holmatro Safety Team at Indianapolis for saving his life, despite not remembering anything about the accident itself.
“Because I couldn’t remember anything, I had this massive fascination with what happened,” said Hinchcliffe. “And the only way that I was going to be able to find that out was talk to all those that were there on the day, and do interviews, get first person accounts of what they saw, kind of piece everything together.
“I spoke to some of the safety crew that were some of the first guys to the car,” Hinchcliffe said. “I want to know what happened, from the car mechanical point of view, to the extraction of how they got me out of the car, to how they fixed it – things like that.”
Racing was always on Hinchcliffe’s mind, even as he first woke up in the hospital.
“When I woke up in hospital, I was on a ventilator and had to communicate via pen and paper. The third question that I asked was ‘when can I get back in the car’,” said Hinchcliffe. “It was infuriating to the doctors because ‘we just put you back together, you just woke up and you already are trying to get back into the machine that did this to you. What is wrong with you?’ The answer is I’m a racer. There’s something wrong with all of us. I was set on getting back from day one.”
Hinchcliffe joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at the beginning of the 2015 season, but only got to run five races with the team due to the season-ending injury. The early portion of last season was a struggle for SPM and all Honda teams, despite Hinchcliffe winning the second race of the season at NOLA Motorsports Park and his teammate James Jakes finishing third.
“Even though my stint was really short and being with a new team, I had already established a good relationship with them,” said Hinchcliffe. “One of the benefits living in Indianapolis was being able to go to the shop on Tuesdays for no reason. Then, once I was cleared to travel, I was at the most of the races during the second half of the season.
“I wanted to be there to continue that team building process and learn as much as I could,” Hinchcliffe said. “Then all through the testing during the off-season, we have continued to gel. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been away, either. Even though I wasn’t driving, I was there.”
Hinchcliffe enters the 2016 season optimistic, especially going to a track like St. Petersburg right off the bat where he scored his first career IndyCar Series win in 2013.
“For me, the track is great,” said Hinchcliffe. “It’s one that I have always loved. Yes, it was the scene of my first win. It makes it extra special in that sense. We’re headed to St. Pete open-minded. You don’t want to go there assuming that you’re going to be the guy on top and all of the sudden, you’re knocked down a couple pegs at the end of practice. So we’ll go there as I think that’s the best approach to take.”
Hinchcliffe said that the support behind him from his team, family, friends and fans has been “the single most overwhelming thing of this experience.”
“The whole Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew has been awesome,” said Hinchcliffe. “We’re all excited to get back to racing. Everybody over these past 10 months has been supportive. It would’ve been easy to say he’s damaged goods or won’t do well in the car, but we’ve had tremendous support across the board from all of our partners. Just excited to try and repay that support with some good finishes.”
Hinchcliffe looks to start the 2016 season strong and prove to everyone that he is still capable of being a race-winning competitor.