James Hinchcliffe embarked on his first full day of testing this offseason Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway, which marked his first time in a car since the end of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season in August.
The Canadian has had a busy offseason that’s included his signing with new team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and a host of other off-track events. But with IndyCar’s limited testing time and a two-month acquaintance period since his SPM signing in October, it was only Tuesday he could actually get in a car.
“It’s been way too long,” Hinchcliffe told MotorSportsTalk. “These testing rules are killer. With the new team, we were all anxious to get on track.
“A lot of those things were done to keep my mind off the fact I wasn’t in a car,” he added. “Keeping busy was the plan all along. Now we can start to get into the swing of things. But having that first test was big. We can debrief from that and bugs we found.”
Hinchcliffe worked with veteran engineer Allen McDonald for this test. McDonald has not been publicly confirmed yet to engineer the No. 77 Honda for 2015, but is likely to do the job after being on SPM’s second car for rookies Mikhail Aleshin and Tristan Vautier the last two years.
He’ll follow from Hinch’s past engineers Nathan O’Rourke (2014), Craig Hampson (2011, 2013) and Tino Belli (2012). Hinchcliffe was full of praise for McDonald after just a single day together.
“I’m really lucky to be able to work with him,” Hinchcliffe said. “I saw him at Andretti in 2012, and I know what his CV is. The fact we have worked on the same team before gets you past the ‘get to know you’ phase.
“We spoke a lot of the same language. So he was prepared. It all went pretty smoothly and seamlessly, and I hope to learn to a lot from him.”
For Hinchcliffe, it was a necessary and good day getting integrated with the SPM crew and team in a track day setting.
“That’s all you can do for now, since we’re not on the new bodywork or engine yet,” he said. “It was a ‘get to know you’ day. Get to know how the engineering stuff operates.
“It was a good day. You see what a well-polished team it is. We went through some procedural and mundane stuff, like fuel saving or things of that nature.”
Hinchcliffe banked what he called “a bunch” of laps – pushing if not exceeding 100 around the Sebring short course would provide a good estimate. There’s plenty upside of testing at the same place, as Sebring’s trademark bumps and character always provide a good baseline setup.
“The nice thing is, this track hasn’t changed since 1952,” Hinchcliffe joked. “That’s the good news about it. From that side of things, we’ve run so many laps. You’ll always roll off normal unless you’re testing experimental parts, so we didn’t have a ton in the pipeline planned. It was a standard test.”
Hinchcliffe’s next test should be late January or early February after the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Meanwhile SPM is spending Wednesday continuing its audition of GP2 veterans for the second seat.