Hinchcliffe turns 27 today, and continues to grow in IndyCar


We wish a happy 27th birthday today to IndyCar’s lone full-time confirmed Canadian for 2014, James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport. As Hinchcliffe ticks another year off this year, we figure it would be a good time to look back and see how he’s grown in the series over the last three years.

As a rookie in 2011, Hinchcliffe entered with limited preseason testing and had to gather a budget to compete for Newman/Haas Racing. Despite missing the opening race of the season, Hinchcliffe entered into as good a situation as was possible: a team with a winning, championship pedigree for nearly 30 years, an excellent engineer in Craig Hampson and one of IndyCar’s most well-regarded drivers, who always seems to suffer the worst luck and timing with teams, in Oriol Servia as a teammate.

Hinchcliffe flourished, with the sixth-best qualifying average in the field behind only the three Team Penske and two Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers. Although he failed to secure a podium, he finished 12th in the standings, and won Rookie-of-the-Year honors in a stacked field that included JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra and James Jakes.

In 2012, if under less than ideal circumstances, Hinchcliffe was picked as Dan Wheldon’s replacement at Andretti Autosport. Wheldon had signed to drive the GoDaddy Chevrolet piloted by Danica Patrick before his fatal accident in the 2011 Las Vegas season finale. Still, again, Hinchcliffe improved with his first few podium finishes and ending eighth in the series standings.

This past year was a breakout year, with three wins scored either by a last stint pass (St. Petersburg), a last turn pass (Brazil) or a lasting dominant impact (crushing win in Iowa). Hinchcliffe, too, was reunited with Hampson as engineer after a year with Tino Belli in 2012. Still, as the season wore on, the Andretti advantage seemed to wear off in the second half, although Hinchcliffe’s consistency improved from a results standpoint following a roller coaster first half.

“It was a little bit of everything,” he explained in a phone interview a couple weeks ago when in Milwaukee at a David Hobbs Honda dealership event. “The second half had a couple things where sure, there was some luck involved, but the results were a moving target. Plus the three Ganassi cars got so much better so that moved them up from where they had been.”

Hinchcliffe also, for the first time, had the challenge of weighing his options as a free agent. He could either return to Andretti, but was also linked to switches to either Ganassi or KV Racing Technology.

“It was a unique position, being in that position for the first time,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to try and get done, and to be honest, the process wasn’t something I enjoyed. Rumors tend to distract you from going racing.

“But I’m glad to have made the decision I did to return. We did have other options. But it’s important to keep the group together for another year.”

It’s important to note that the contract Hinchcliffe signed for 2014 with Andretti is just for one year. If, for instance, Ganassi opts to go with a short-term solution to replace Dario Franchitti with a veteran who may or may not “move the needle” from an overarching marketing standpoint, Hinchcliffe’s name could pop up again for that seat come 2015.

But armed with another new engineer – Nathan O’Rourke, who moves over from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing – and a new engine for 2014, the goal is a sustained, season-long championship challenge. That will undoubtedly help to boost his stock even further, after three years in IndyCar and six in the open-wheel ladder system before that.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.