James Hinchcliffe believes his performance through the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season was better than his final points tally and finish in the drivers’ standings suggest.
Hinchcliffe returned to full-time racing this year with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after having his 2015 campaign cut short by a severe accident during practice for the Indianapolis 500.
The Canadian scored pole for the 100th running of the ‘500 back in May, and picked up three podium finishes through the year, recording a best result of second in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Despite ending the season 13th in the drivers’ standings, Hinchcliffe is adamant that his season was better than the statistics suggest.
“If you wipe the Detroit weekend off the map, you give us back the points from Texas and we finish the race at Watkins Glen, we’re fighting for a top three in the championship,” Hinchcliffe told indycar.com.
Hinchcliffe finished endured a nightmare weekend in Detroit with 18th and a DNF in the two races. Then in the final 3 races of the year, he lost 25 points due to a technical infraction after his charge to second at Texas, ran short on fuel at Watkins Glen after being poised to finish the race P2, and finished 12th in the double points finale at Sonoma.
Hinchcliffe’s impressive comeback season was one of IndyCar’s feel-good stories of 2016, but he stressed that SPM’s on-track strength should come as no shock.
“It shouldn’t be that surprising. This team has done that before,” Hinchcliffe said.
“That’s what’s so impressive about SPM, they are kind of the little team that could.
“When you think there’s the three powerhouse teams that combine to make 12 cars or half the grid, if you’re anywhere in the top 12 in points, you’re doing a good job if you’re not one of those guys.”
Team owner Sam Schmidt is confident that Hinchcliffe can lead SPM for many years to come, and is targeting a shot at the championship in 2017.
“We can build a long-term program around him and a long-term program around Mikhail [Aleshin] and keep on improving,” Schmidt said.
“We’re still not perfect, but I think the guys are doing a hell of a job.
“We want to position ourselves in the offseason, fill in a couple of spots here and there, and legitimately go for the championship next year.”