James Hinchcliffe on the comeback trail for IndyCar driving return


His surgeries are done. His beard is trimmed.

His sense of humor? Still top level as ever.

So the next logical step in the return of James Hinchcliffe to driving is just that, driving and doing proper testing this offseason.

Later this month, the 28-year-old Canadian should be strapping back into his No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda for his first formal test since his accident in practice for the Indianapolis 500.

He had his first unofficial running when driving IndyCar’s two-seater, with the Astor Cup championship trophy in the backseat, across the Golden Gate Bridge last week.

That running – since Hinchcliffe had said both on social media and in a recent Periscope with friend and teammate Conor Daly he’d shave some of his Grizzly Adams-length beard only when he got back in a car – counted as an opportunity to fulfill that promise.

source: AP
Hinch returned to action at of all places, the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: AP

The citizens of “Hinchtown” voted whether to save or shave. More than 800 votes were tallied, and “shave” won by four votes.

“It feels nice. I’m starting to feel like myself again. Now inside and out,” Hinchcliffe told MotorSportsTalk at Sonoma this weekend.

The recovery process has been the biggest part. Having had several surgeries, Hinchcliffe is now back to square one, nearly 100 percent ready to go.

“I’m doing great, man. The last surgery went really well, and the recovery is going well to go along with it,” he said.

“I’ve been getting clearance in stages in terms of physical activity to get back in the gym. There’s only one more stage left to clear, so hopefully we will begin that next week or the week after, to get properly after it.

“The team is planning to test late September, early October… so it’s soon. I’ve got a goal. That’s the plan. So hopefully we can make it work.”

A likely test location for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team would be Road America, where several Verizon IndyCar Series teams are testing later this month.

Hinchcliffe thanked the IndyCar family for being so helpful and warm to him throughout his time sidelined.

“It’s been probably the most incredible part of this whole journey I’ve been on since May, is seeing really how much of a community this is, and how much support there is,” Hinchcliffe said.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing it again now (with the loss of Justin Wilson; Hinchcliffe’s thoughts on Justin here). But it really is one of those silver linings in a bad situation.

“You appreciate the people around you so much, and you see how close-knit this industry really is. It’s really special to witness that and be a recipient. Now, it’s up to me to give back to everybody.”

Hinchcliffe is also looking forward to a more traditional offseason of testing and development work from season-to-season, as he prepares for his second season with SPM.

Last year saw Hinchcliffe as perhaps IndyCar’s star newsmaker of the offseason, when he announced his move from Andretti Autosport to Schmidt Peterson at the Flat 12 Bierworks in Indianapolis (where his Hinchtown Hammer Down beer is brewed).

But the problem was, all testing was done with the old Dallara DW12 aero kit and chassis until the new manufacturer aero kits made their official debut in March.

“The situation last year was very bizarre and very unique. It was not normal,” Hinchcliffe said.

“It’s nice to be going back to something very familiar and normalcy. Having the cars earlier in the year will be good to prepare for 2016, rather than trying to get an entire offseason’s worth of testing done in four days before St. Pete.”

In the interim, Hinchcliffe will continue plying his trade as IndyCar’s resident court jester.

He had the chance to meet Will Power’s comedian brother Damien this weekend at Sonoma, and he also took the opportunity to jokingly rip on Daly with him standing right behind us when we spoke this weekend.

“I got interviewed by him, actually. So that’s gonna be coming out during the offseason,” Hinchcliffe said of Damien Power.

“I was a big fan of his. That bit he did on Will was really funny. He had a commercial out in Australia that a lot of people probably haven’t seen, but it was brilliant.

“I’m definitely a big fan of his. If I could have any other career, it would probably be stand up comedian. If I had a choice or if I had the talent, which I clearly don’t. It’d be a good gig, so I have a lot of respect for him.”

source: AP
Hinch and Daly at IMS. Photo: AP

As for the results of Daly and Ryan Briscoe in the No. 5 car, who filled in for him while gone, “Hinch’s” sense of humor immediately popped.

“Briscoe’s done a great job… but Conor’s results were… the results were OK. I don’t want to say it was luck. But I don’t want to say it was a big effort on his part. Definitely not talent,” Hinchcliffe joked.

“In all seriousness, we’ve been very lucky as a team. We’ve had multiple guys fill in on that car and they both did a really good job.

“Conor delivered great at two street courses he’d never been to in the rain. A lot of experienced guys made a lot of mistakes those weekends, and he didn’t. I was definitely super proud of what he did for me in Toronto.”

Hinchcliffe doesn’t know who his teammate will be next year, but he did make one suggestion.

“You wish you had a car for everybody and we come back with this super five-car team for me, (James) Jakes, Mikhail (Aleshin), Ryan, and Conor,” he said.

“We’re gonna pitch it to ARROW. We’ll see how it goes.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).