Hinchcliffe looks forward to embracing two-car, team leader role at SPM

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INDIANAPOLIS – James Hinchcliffe isn’t worried about downsizing from being part of a four-car team to a two-car team. If anything, he’s optimistic that it will be easier to get both cars at his new home, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, on the same page.

“It will make debriefs shorter, that’s for sure,” Hinchcliffe joked during his press conference held Tuesday night at Flat 12 Bierworks in Indianapolis.

“It will be a challenge in some respects. One of the strengths Andretti Autosport has is four cars, with four good drivers, with four good engineers. So they could get through a lot of data and testing in a short amount of time.

“But in a year where body kits come in, that will be a huge advantage. So it’ll put huge emphasis on getting the two cars right. But it might give a little more focus.

“Sometimes it’s difficult getting four cars run well, and it could be easier to get two cars to run well.”

Hinchcliffe’s nature of his career has been adaptability to different engineers, as he’s had three different ones in four years. He had Craig Hampson both in 2011 with Newman/Haas and again with Andretti in 2013, with Tino Belli (2012) and Nathan O’Rourke (2014) also serving as his race engineer.

“I’ve kind of had to be; it’s lucky I went to four different elementary schools, so I could frequently meet new people and get along,” Hinchcliffe said. “The ideal thing is to find one you work with long-term. But I’ve got to work with a lot of good guys and learned a lot with each. It’s helped my career.”

He’ll have another new one either way in 2015. Per SPM team manager Rob Edwards, Ben Bretzman will move to Team Penske to engineer Simon Pagenaud’s car. So options are available.

“We have options both internal and external for James,” Edwards said. “The thing that’s our strength is the balance on the engineering group. The way we’ve worked together is good.”

Also per Edwards, he hopes to have Hinchcliffe out on track for his first test in the next three to four weeks.

Hinchcliffe downplayed the new “team leader” status, as he said he always felt part of the Andretti family.

“I never felt left out at Andretti by any stretch, but there were so many good drivers,” he said. “Being ‘team leader’ if you want, puts a bit of emphasis on certain things. My hope it allows us to work in a style more suited to me, or get the car tailored that way, but still help the team overall.”

Lastly from a Honda standpoint, it’s important for the manufacturer to have kept him in the fold for 2015. Hinchcliffe is up for engine development and all the off-track commitments that go with the job.

“It’s a great company to work with, and there’s no question that had a huge impact on where I’d end up,” he said. “They’re a great partner on and off. We’ll push as hard as we can on the engine side, but you know me man, this is what I do (all the off-track stuff).”

Speaking of the off-track stuff, Hinchcliffe is already in season competitive form. During a media event Tuesday night in Indy, media members joined Hinch and girlfriend Kirsten Dee on one of Indianapolis’ Handlebar Indy outdoor bar patio/bicycles to race against the Indy Eleven minor league soccer team on another bicycle. The media team won, aided in part by a great (the other team argued sketchy) restart on the way into Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).