Hinchcliffe on Mazda’s year-on-year growth: “It’s night and day”


When last we spoke to new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ recruit James Hinchcliffe, he was fresh off his first test in the team’s No. 77 Dallara DW12-Honda and was still sorting out his Rolex 24 at Daytona plans.

The Canadian reunited with Sylvain Tremblay’s SpeedSource organization, and was back in the team’s No. 70 Mazda SKYACTIV-D LMP2 prototype for the race despite not initially being in the plans.

It was a welcome reunion for the driver whose history with SpeedSource dates back a decade.

“Honestly it was a quick call between John (Doonan, Director, Mazda Motorsports) and I,” Hinchcliffe told MotorSportsTalk at the Rolex 24. “We’ve had a relationship for a bunch of years. It goes back to 2005 with SpeedSource. It is a second family.

“Getting to come back is great. Getting to continue is great. This new project is great. This development has been incredible. Having not been in (this car) since this race last year, it was pretty overwhelming.”

Hinchcliffe’s race, where he co-drove with Tremblay and full-season drivers Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez, ended due to a terminal oil pump failure.

But in his week of driving it, Hinchcliffe raved about the year-on-year improvements since his last drive in the car at the 2014 Rolex 24.

“It’s 100% different,” he said. “I hit the brakes, and it isn’t even fair. It’s not even a comparison. Never mind the engine how much that’s improved. These guys deserve so much credit. With the gains made, in a year, they should be running right up there.

“The situation was atypical last year,” he added. “Now we’re in an environment where we are more familiar. We’re not having to drive to the rear view mirror. Last year we were watching the fight. Now we are in it.”

It was a breakthrough drive for Mazda with the sister No. 07 car, driven by Tom Long, Joel Miller, Ben Devlin and Tremblay, breaking through to lead the car’s first laps in TUDOR United SportsCar Championship competition, and also becoming the first diesel to lead overall at Daytona. Long had the honors.

“It is so meaningful for our Mazda team to lead the race today,” Doonan said. “It is the result of tireless work from this team over the past 12 months. Mazda has 23 class wins at Daytona, but the first time to lead the race overall, so it’s a big day for the brand.”

As for Hinchcliffe, with no further sports car races on the horizon, he has two IndyCar tests upcoming. He and Conor Daly will test at Sebring on Feb. 3, with Hinchcliffe then set for two days at NOLA Motorsports Park the following week.

Hinchcliffe’s personal sponsor Spyder active wear released this video after the first Sebring test in December.

Ryan Hunter-Reay hired as replacement for Conor Daly at Ed Carpenter Racing

Ryan Hunter-Reay Carpenter
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ryan Hunter-Reay was named to replace Conor Daly in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet, starting in the NTT IndyCar Series event next week at Road America.

Hunter-Reay is the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. He finished 11th for Dreyer & Reinbold last month in the 107th Indy 500, his first start since the 2021 season finale. He drove full time for Andretti Autosport from 2010-21.

“We need to improve our competitiveness and I wanted to add a fresh perspective from a driver like Ryan who has a massive amount of experience and success as well as a reputation as a team leader. I am excited to welcome Ryan to the team,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a team release. “We have worked together in the past as teammates and he tested for ECR at Barber Motorsports Park in October 2021, where he made an immediate impact as we were able to qualify one of our cars on the pole following that test. I am confident that his experience and technical abilities will be an asset to ECR as we move forward toward our goals as a team.”

Hunter-Reay has 18 IndyCar victories, most recently in 2018. He also is a winner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, having been a part of winning entries in the 2020 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 2018 Petit Le Mans. Last year, he was an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing while being on standby for Chip Ganassi Racing.

He replaces Daly, whose departure was announced a day earlier in what the driver and team said was a mutual decision.

“I was surprised when I got the call from Ed,” Hunter-Reay said in a team release. “He described how frustrated he was that his team has not been able to realize its potential despite their efforts, investments, as well as technical and personnel changes over the past few years and asked for my help. Ed and I are very close friends and have been for a long time. I’ve worked with the team in the past and they are a very talented group with high expectations and a committed partner in BITNILE.COM.

“This will certainly be a challenge for me as well. It’s a tough situation jumping in a car in the middle of the season without any testing in what I believe to be the most competitive series in the world. Certainly, part of my motivation in saying ‘yes’ to Ed is the great challenge ahead. The last time I turned right driving an NTT IndyCar Series car was in October of 2021 with this team at Barber. However, I remain very confident in both my driving and technical abilities and believe by working with the talented people at ECR and Team Chevy, while representing BITNILE.COM, we will make progress. I am going to do everything I can do to help the team achieve its long-term objectives.”

Said Milton “Todd” Ault, the chairman of sponsor BitNile.com: “It is great for BitNile.com to be aligned with an Indy 500 Winner and an NTT IndyCar Series champion. I have followed Ryan’s career for years and I am confident he will challenge the entire ECR team to perform at higher levels. I wish everyone luck at Road America.”