IndyCar 2016 driver review: James Hinchcliffe

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MotorSportsTalk continues its review through the field of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, driver-by-driver.

James Hinchcliffe was probably better than 13th place in his full-time return to IndyCar following that devastating accident in practice last year. This year, he’s been not just a full-time driver once more, but a series ambassador in so many roles outside the cockpit.

James Hinchcliffe, No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

  • 2015: 23rd Place (5 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 10th, 1 Podium, 1 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 13.6 Avg. Start, 9.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 1 Pole, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 217 Laps Led, 10.9 Avg. Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

James Hinchcliffe was a top-10 driver in points most of the year so the fact he fell to 13th by the checkered flag in Sonoma was a bit misleading. As ever, though, the fact he was back at all in 2016 was always going to be one of the year’s top storylines.

Much was made, as expected, when Hinchcliffe scored his dramatic pole position for the 100th Indianapolis 500 slightly more than a year to the day after his near-death crash in practice. But while outside media focused more on the comeback story, inside the beltway, the Hinchcliffe improved dynamic with engineer Allen McDonald and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team on the whole was the greater focus. Qualifying was significantly better than it was in his truncated 2015 season, and more than once SPM flew the flag as Honda’s top team over the course of the weekend. In his first seven races this year, Hinchcliffe had six top-10 starts; in 2015, there was only one 10th place in five races. Overall, there were 11 top-10 starts.

And Hinchcliffe got his rewards in the races as well. His podiums at the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Toronto, the latter his home race, were thanks to dynamic strategy from Robert Gue on the box. Sadly while Hinchcliffe excelled by strategy, he also occasionally got caught out by it – a would-be second-place came up empty, literally, at Watkins Glen when the car ran out of fuel on the final lap. Then his and the team’s most dominant drive – at Texas – suffered insult to injury after coming up a fraction short to Graham Rahal when a post-race penalty was assessed for the skid plate being worn.

For the driver whose on-track results have often been erratic, this was easily the most consistent Hinchcliffe has been in five full-time seasons. The weird part is that it produced a career-worst finish in points, an unlucky 13th one spot down from his rookie year of 2011 and his last full-time season with Andretti Autosport in 2014.

Hinchcliffe heads into the offseason now without the focus of the comeback story as it was last year. Instead, he’s busy playing ambassador for the championship, with his turn on “Dancing with the Stars” coming after a couple other national media rounds and appearances this year. It was a year where his off-track accolades drew greater focus, but his on-track performances merited their best scores yet in his IndyCar career.

Seattle Supercross by the numbers: Three riders separated by 17 points


Three riders remain locked in a tight battle with 17 points separating the leader Cooper Webb from third-place Chase Sexton and these are only a few Supercross numbers to consider entering Seattle.

Seattle Supercross numbers
Chase Sexton made a statement in Detroit with his second win of 2023. – Feld Motor Sports

For the fifth time in 10 rounds. Sexton, Webb, and Eli Tomac shared the podium in Detroit. Between them, the trio has taken 23 podiums, leaving only seven for the remainder of the field. Jason Anderson, Ken Roczen and Justin Barcia have two each with Aaron Plessinger scoring the other.

Webb and Tomac won the last four championships with two apiece in alternating years, but they were not one another’s primary rival for most of those seasons. On the average, however, the past four years show an incredible similarity with average points earned of 21.0 for Webb and 21.3 for Tomac. With five wins so far this season, Tomac (23 wins) leads Webb (19) in victories but Webb (43) edges Tomac (41) in podium finishes during this span.

Tomac has won two of the last three Seattle races and those two wins in this stadium are topped only by James Stewart. Fittingly, if Tomac gets a third win this week, he will tie Stewart for second on the all-time wins’ list. Tomac tied Ricky Carmichael for third with 48 wins at Oakland and took sole possession of that spot with his Daytona win.

Sexton still has a lot to say and after winning last week in Detroit, he is speaking up. The Supercross numbers are against him entering Seattle, however, because a points’ deficit this large after Round 10 has been erased only once. In 1983 David Bailey was 47 points behind Bob Hannah, and like Sexton he was also in third place. Bailey took the points’ lead with one race remaining.

The seven points Sexton was penalized last week for jumping in a red cross flag section in Detroit could prove extremely costly.

In fact, it has been a series of mistakes that has cost Sexton the most. In the last two weeks, he lost 10 points with a 10th-place finish to go with his penalty. Erase those, and all three riders hold their fate in their hands.

Plessinger’s heartbreak in Detroit is still fresh, but the upside of his run is that was his best of the season and could turn his fortunes around. Prior to that race, he led only seven laps in three mains. He was up front for 20 laps in Detroit with five of those being the fastest on the track.

Last week’s win by Hunter Lawrence tied him with his brother Jett Lawrence for 17th on the all-time wins’ list. With the focus shifting to 250 West for the next two rounds, Jett has a great opportunity to pull back ahead. The real test will be at the first East / West Showdown in East Rutherford, New Jersey on April 22.

Last Five Seattle Winners

2022: Eli Tomac
2019: Marvin Musquin
2018: Eli Tomac
2017: Marvin Musquin
2014: Ryan Villopoto

2022: Hunter Lawrence
2019: Dylan Ferrandis
2018: Aaron Plessinger
2017: Aaron Plessinger
2014: Cole Seely

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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Chase Sexton wins in Detroit, penalized seven points