Regan Smith

James Hinchcliffe describes how inspired he was by Justin Wilson

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It’s the night of the lone Texas Motor Speedway same night doubleheader race in the 2011 IndyCar season.

The battle was for 18th or 19th place. Maybe 21st.

James Hinchcliffe doesn’t remember which spot it was.

But that night saw the “Mayor of Hinchtown” race Justin Wilson cleanly and fairly in what was one of the Canadian’s favorite racing moments of his career.

It didn’t matter the position, but the level of respect Wilson showed the rookie on track even as both drivers were fighting ill-handling race cars stuck out to him.

“He and I were both struggling so bad,” Hinchcliffe told MotorSportsTalk at Sonoma this weekend. “I don’t even remember the number were racing for.

“It was my first mile-and-a-half race. He sees my struggling with my car, I see him struggling with his. But we had this great race.

“Afterwards we had a great laugh about how hard we were driving for 18th, 19th, whatever it was. He was such an awesome guy to be around.”

Unlike some of Wilson’s longtime on-track competitors – Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia and Will Power come to mind – Hinchcliffe and Wilson only had three full-time seasons together on-track from 2011 to 2015.

Wilson missed the second half of 2011 with a back injury and also most of 2015 due his part-time status.

Hinchcliffe and Wilson only shared the track once in 2015 – the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – the race before Hinchcliffe’s accident in practice for the Indianapolis 500 sidelined him for the rest of this season.

Coincidentally, Wilson wound up as Hinchcliffe’s replacement in Andretti Autosport’s fourth car this season, albeit in the car that only ran part-time.

Still, Hinchcliffe’s memories of Wilson date back even further than their racing days together.

They go back to when the then-teenager, then-Atlantic driver announced Champ Car World Series races in 2006 and 2007, as color commentator alongside sage North American open-wheel talent scout Jeremy Shaw, for Champ Car’s international feed.

Wilson was on the verge of an emotional – if draining – second straight Mexico City win to close out the 2006 season. With only one good hand, he led and strategically defended against Bourdais all race.

On the final lap though, Bourdais channeled his inner Paul Tracy and “chrome horned” Wilson out of the way at the top of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course en route to his seventh win in 14 races of his third straight title year. Wilson was left with a solitary win at Edmonton.

And yet the guy pissed off about the bump-and-run, externally anyway, wasn’t Wilson. It was Hinchcliffe up in the booth.

“There’s a lot of memories, but the one that always stood out to me was Mexico City in ’06 with Bourdais,” Hinchcliffe explained. “Justin hadn’t won a ton of races at that point, and Bourdais had already been a champion a couple times over.

“Justin leads the whole race and the last lap Bourdais just chucks it down there at the hairpin, bounces over a curb, punts him out of the way. Basically, he did what Regan Smith did to (Alex) Tagliani at Mid-Ohio. It was a very NASCAR-esque move.

“At that point, I didn’t even know Justin that well. But I was so mad for him! I’m thinking, ‘This move is a joke… how is Race Control not doing anything for him?’

“He gets out of the car and gives one of the most impressive interviews I’ve ever seen. It was super calm. He was totally accepting of the situation. He wasn’t angry at Seb, he wasn’t angry at Race Control… he was just there in the moment. It was the ultimate gentleman reply to what had happened.

“I remember right then and there thinking, I hope one day I can respond like that in a similar situation, with that kind of poise and professionalism. It really was inspiring to a young driver.”

Hinchcliffe also made a particularly valid point about how important it was for the IndyCar community to gather so soon after Pocono this past weekend at Sonoma.

“We were talking about this this morning,” Hinchcliffe explained. “It’s the polar opposite to Dan (Wheldon), where we had the entire offseason to grieve about it, think about it, and dwell on it. And now, we’re five days later forced to get right back to work.

“On one hand you feel almost guilty for being here and doing it, but on the other… and I know this sounds cliché… but ask any driver that has the ability to tell you, if that was you, would you want to be racing this weekend and the answer would be yes 100 percent of the time.”

Soon enough, Hinchcliffe will get his chance to do so, as he finishes his own recovery process before the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.