After accident, James Hinchcliffe is on ‘best vacation you never wanted’

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Most of James Hinchcliffe’s days revolve around one big decision:

Spend the majority of the day sitting on the couch or laying in bed.

“It’s very stressful and strenuous, as you can imagine,” Hinchcliffe joked from his Indianapolis home in a Wednesday teleconference.

The rest of the day, the 28-year-old Canadian driver devotes to the recovery process.

Some days involve the self-proclaimed “space nerd” reading science-fiction novels provided by Indy Lights driver and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Jack Harvey (the latest being “The Martian” by Andy Weir), counting how many steps he takes in a day (“Today I’m up to 2,400, which is slightly below my best of just over 4,000. That was a good day.”), spending time his with his girlfriend, Kirsten Dee, and watching good, old-fashioned television.

“Daytime television sucks in this country,” Hinchcliffe says, later observing, “It’s almost like the best vacation you never wanted.”

When he chooses to sit on his couch, Hinchcliffe doesn’t have to look far for the reminders.

The get-well cards, from friends and fans, across the country, line his mantle and a book shelf.

That’s in addition to the text messages, emails and social media comments he’s received since his wreck four weeks ago.

“I get to sit there and see reminders of people that care about you, people that are wishing you well,” Hinchcliffe said. “For me, part of my motivation to get better is for the people that took time to reach out to me as much as anything else.”

While the messages remind the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver about those who care about his well being, they also serve as a reminder about “how close it was to being a different story.”

According to the Red Cross, the average adult body holds 10 pints of blood at a given time.

In an interview with SportsNet (via the Indianapolis Star), a Canadian sports cable network, Hinchcliffe said he needed about 14 pints of blood while an ambulance carried him the 3.8 miles to IU Health Methodist Hospital from Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 18.

Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Honda had crashed in Turn 3 during practice for the Indianapolis 500.

While the Holmatro Safety Team worked to remove Hinchcliffe from the car, it found a pool of blood beneath him. A wishbone from the underbody suspension connected to the wheels had pierced the tub of his car, and then his upper-left thigh.

“I’m not sure if it’s some sort of defense mechanism or biology taking over,” Hinchcliffe said. “Despite being conscious throughout the whole process, I have mercifully been spared any memory of the accident whatsoever, of the extrication. Even the first couple days at the hospital are a bit of a blur.”

It wasn’t until five days later, hearing first-hand accounts from family members and doctors, that he began to realize how serious things had gotten.

At one point, Hinchcliffe told SportsNet, a doctor would “casually” inform his family “He might not make it.”

Doctors would tell Hinchliffe that if the wishbone had struck him five millimeters in another direction, he might not have survived.

Hinchcliffe said Wednesday when he finally woke up in the ICU, he knew he had been in an accident and that “I was somewhere I probably shouldn’t be.”

Attached to a ventilator, Hinchcliffe could only communicate by writing on paper. That’s how he communicated to team members about the crash and how he asked about when he could race again.

Exercise isn’t a priority in Hinchcliffe’s recovery, not yet.

That will come four to six weeks after he undergoes one last surgery in about two months on his abdomen. Then he’ll be able to work on gaining the 12 pounds of muscle mass he’s lost in the last month.

Right now, he’s permitted to work on his forearm strength so he’ll be ready to grip a steering wheel. He can also use an elliptical machine, which was the first big step in recovery. Other than that, it’s the couch or counting steps.

“Obviously when you have had injuries, you’re not using your legs as much, the more you clot,” Hinchcliffe said. “The fact I had a complete oil change (blood transfusion) makes that more of a risk as well. The chance to get off the blood thinners, alleviate the risk of clots.

“Movement is very good. At the same time you don’t want to overdo anything or aggravate anything. That has been a big challenge, trying to stay active, but at the same time giving the body the rest it needs to recover, making sure you don’t push it too hard.”

Another part of his recovery, at least mentally, is racing.

Since his May 18 crash, the Verizon IndyCar Series has ran four races and Hinchcliffe has been able to watch. He even gave the command to start engines for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway via the “Big Hoss TV” on the backstretch.

“I think it has helped,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s kind of the sitting down and turning the TV on and watching the race. I love having it to watch. I’ve still been kept as part of the team. I’m still getting the pre and post-race reports. I obviously have a vested interest in it. It does make it a little bit more interesting to watch.”

Hinchcliffe has seen the video of the crash many times and he’s talked with his engineers. He’s also been to his team’s shop, where he looked at the racecar that could have been his last.

All of it in effort to better understand what went wrong.

“It’s equal parts fascinating and terrifying, to be honest,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was literally one of those one in a million situations. The part that failed is a part that we have almost no recorded failures of ever. I know a lot was spoken about mileage of pieces, this, that and the other in the aftermath of the crash. I know a lot of teams changed rockers, whether they were mileaged or not, after my accident.”

But the crash, as dangerous as it was, isn’t deterring him from returning to the car. Hinchcliffe says his determination comes down to how drivers are programmed.

“I think it’s because we’re all absolutely insane, wired wrong,” Hinchcliffe says. “We’re all competitors. This is what we live to do. Despite the fact that something of this nature happened, it’s something that we all acknowledge can happen.”

Hinchcliffe says there’s relief in knowing the crash wasn’t because of driver error. However, it’s also “sobering” to know that something out of your control has such a significant impact on your life.

“That’s the nature of the beast,” Hinchliffe says. “That’s the game we play. We play it willingly.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”