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

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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.