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’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.