Hinchcliffe: “I just assume it will go poorly”

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TORONTO – One thing the “Mayor of Hinchtown” – Canada’s lone full-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe – has in spades is a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Hinchcliffe heads into Toronto this weekend looking to break his duck, where seemingly everything other than a cartoon anvil has struck him in eight prior starts between IndyCar, Indy Lights and Formula Atlantic at his home race.

A third place in the 2009 Indy Lights race, behind then Andretti Autosport drivers Sebastian Saavedra and JR Hildebrand, marks his only podium finish in Toronto.

“I just assume it will go poorly,” Hinchcliffe joked Thursday, during his media availability ahead of the weekend.

“I had an engine problem in contention for a podium in ’12. I got turfed by PT in ’11… although it’s kinda cool getting punted by a Canadian legend who’s known for that. I didn’t even start last year in race two because I stalled on the grid.”

With a quote that’s bound to inspire his engineer, Nathan O’Rourke, of his No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda to want to pummel Hinch, he said the luck simply has to change.

“Maybe there’s nothing left to happen,” Hinch said. “My engineer will hate me saying that. I’ll get hit by a meteor now or something.”

Although Hinchcliffe has had great pace all season, for whatever reason there’s been a litany of moments that have cost him a decent result. Fifth twice (Detroit 2, Houston 1) marks his best result.

“No doubt it’s frustrating,” he said, as he enters the weekend 11th in points. “We’ve done a good job and had good pace. The results don’t match the effort. Its just been one of those years.”

Seventeen different drivers have scored podiums this season, and Hinch would add to that tally if and when he breaks through. He hasn’t said the field’s competitiveness was a reason why they haven’t got that result yet, though.

“I don’t think that’s part of it, to be honest,” he said. “It wasn’t that we got passed by others. It’s just more timing of yellows falling against us. Or at a place like Iowa, we lost the balance.”

Regardless of the struggles, Hinchcliffe remains thankful to the Canadians fans for support. He’s the sole Canadian driver in the Honda Indy 2 in Toronto, which is the first such occasion of just one Canuck since 1990.

“It means the world to me,” he said. “There’s been an incredible amount of support, and it’s the same this year with it being a tough year as it was last year when I came in here with three wins.

“Toronto and Canadian fans? They’re not bandwagoners. They’ll still support you.”

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.