James Hinchcliffe looks for best-ever Toronto Indy finish
Starting position hasn't translated into results for Oakville native
James Hinchcliffe didn't know how terrible he has been in his hometown race.
He was aware his history in Toronto wasn't great — last year in particular was embarrassing for him — but he was surprised that four years into his IndyCar career the best he has finished at the Honda Indy Toronto is eighth.
"Is that the best I've done is eighth? I knew it was bad, I didn't realize it was that bad," said Hinchcliffe on Thursday. "How's it feel? Yeah with those stats great. I mean who wouldn't be excited?"
Hinchcliffe is quick to point out how excited he is to return to the track he credits with getting him involved in racing. But all the love the Oakville, Ont., native shows the 85-lap, 2.81-kilometre street course at Exhibition Place hasn't been reciprocated with checkered flags.
The 27-year-old Andretti Autosport driver could use some love. His season entering the doubleheader this weekend has been plagued by disappointing results, mechanical issues, collisions and even a concussion after being hit by debris at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Hinchcliffe hasn't lacked for speed.
He's started second in 5-of-12 races so far, but hasn't finished on the podium. He's been close — he might have won a race in Houston if he hadn't pitted late and got stuck behind yellow flags — but with six races left Hinchcliffe is starting to wonder what else might happen before the season ends in August.
"Running for a podium in Indy GP and somebody smoked me in the head with a piece of a wing. I mean, like why does that happen? Who does that happen to? It's just been one of those years," said Hinchcliffe.
"It is frustrating certainly because I don't think the results match the effort in the job that the whole team is doing. But at the end of the day we're sleeping well at night because we're I think executing very well and it's just really been a function of wrong place, wrong time a lot of the time this year."
Hinchcliffe's bad luck appeared to be on the verge of ending when he returned from the concussion to qualify second for the Indianapolis 500. But even that hope ended when he collided with Ed Carpenter.
Barring a miracle run — he's 11th overall in the points race — Hinchcliffe can be forgiven for being reduced to sarcasm when asked how he can salvage the season.
"Well I figure, I'll win both of these ones. And then in Ohio. And then Milwaukee, Sonoma and Fontana and I call the year a success," he said. "Really no reason to aim for anything less than that at this point because we're pretty far out of it.
"Like I said, we're just bummed that we haven't had the results that we feel we deserve for the effort we've been putting forward. I really want to get a couple of strong results in there for the guys, and for myself or (sponsor) United Fiber And Data, for everybody because I genuinely think that these guys deserve it."
By default Hinchcliffe is Canada's only hope to win the Honda Indy Toronto after Alex Tagliani of Lachenaie, Que., departed IndyCar in the off-season. Toronto's Paul Tracy was the last Canadian to win the event in 2003.
Hinchcliffe finished third at Exhibition Place in his first season in the Indy Lights developmental series. But the IndyCar event has only become progressively worse for him, culminating in the second race last year when a stuck throttle kept him from starting on the grid and ended in a last-place finish among cars still on the track.
This year he has predictably low expectations.
"I just assume it's going to go poorly. It's not really a superstition as much as it is a statistical thing," he said before recalling a collision with Tracy in 2011 and an engine failure that knocked him out of contention in 2012.
"I've had it all here. Maybe now finally there's nothing left to happen. I mean [I] literally didn't even make the start of the race last year. It can't get any worse than that."
Hinchcliffe knocked on the table in front of him just in case.
"My engineer would kill me for saying that because now I'll get hit by a meteor or something."