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.”

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/