Photo courtesy of IMSA

Sports cars: Trent Hindman’s whirlwind year of growth

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One of the hottest young prospects in the North American sports car paddock this year is Trent Hindman, the 22-year-old Wayside, New Jersey native and past Team USA Scholarship recipient who has bordered on being a chameleon with the amount of different cars, series and continents he’ll have raced on this year.

An open-wheel convert to sports car racing, Hindman marked his true arrival to the IMSA world in 2014 when he won that year’s GS class title co-driving with John Edwards in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at age 19, driving for Mark Boden’s Fall-Line Motorsports in the venerable BMW M3.

But precocious as he was then, Hindman’s been through a roller coaster of a ride since. As the first American brought on more than a decade to BMW’s Junior Driver program in 2015, Hindman experienced a number of peaks and valleys that season as he balanced an occasional international racing platform with a tough follow-up season in the Continental series. A change in co-driver to the talented but perpetually unlucky Ashley Freiberg and an overall lack of competitiveness for the aging car left him wondering what might come next after a tough season, as BMW didn’t retain him and Fall-Line dropped out of the series after Hindman and Freiberg won at the season finale in tricky, wet conditions at Road Atlanta.

The No. 12 Porsche has excelled in CTSC last two years. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Joining up with Cameron Cassels and Mike Bavaro’s Ocean Township, N.J.-based Bodymotion Racing team in 2016 set in motion the fruits of Hindman’s crazy 2017 season and as Hindman explains, it was a journey back from being aligned with a manufacturer to helping a privateer team and developing gentleman driver that he wouldn’t have traded for the world.

“I’d learned a ton from John and from Fall-Line Motorsports in 2014 but I had way less experience and I was so much more immature… I mean I was 18, then 19 years old at the time!” Hindman told NBC Sports.

“With the same car, same team and a different situation I didn’t grow as much as I needed to. I had that component in America and now I was part of the BMW Junior program, and overall, I didn’t perform how I wanted to and didn’t get the most out of myself.

“With the opportunity from Cameron Cassels and working with the Bodymotion team out of my hometown, it was getting thrown into a different scenario. Here, I’m not just a closing driver, but I also help my co-driver learn the tracks, the series and the environment. Having the time with John and Fall-Line to learn, and now with Cameron and Bodymotion to grow, has helped infinitely.”

A debut win with the team’s Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport at the 2016 Sebring race – they’d missed Daytona with Cassels having a family commitment to attend to – was the true proof of potential for the team and new combination, and with Hindman having defeated one of the world’s top GT drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen in a straight fight with the two in equal cars, it spoke volumes. Keep that note in mind for later.

Hindman and Cassels reeled off two more wins after Sebring at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen International, respectively, and ended third in points. While the wins were nice, pressure was higher to perform this year as the GS field – courtesy of an infusion of new GT4 machinery – leapt from five or six regular entries to 14 or 15 cars at most races, sometimes more.

Hindman and Cassels (center) beat 2016 sparring partners CJ Wilson Racing at Daytona. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The performance didn’t change though as the pairing won the 2017 season opener at Daytona, now a four-hour race, against the biggest GS field of the season north of 20 cars.

“The competition is much greater this year,” Hindman explained. “Perception is reality. The top teams last year are also the top teams this year, but we knew we had to raise our game as last year the average was only five or six cars, and now it’s more than double that.

“Winning Daytona and battling through the summer months to be in championship contention at Road Atlanta goes to prove the amount of hard work and effort that has gone in from Cameron and this team.”

Ultimately the pairing ended second in GS this season, with the Bodymotion Cayman a year older compared to the newer, updated Porsche Cayman GT4 MR fielded by RS1, and the pro/pro duo of Dillon Machavern and Dylan Murcott.

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

Hindman’s year though was primarily spent bouncing between paddocks. The GS program was one of his two primary ones, with the other coming in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series with Prestige Performance in its Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2, and sharing the car with Riccardo Agostini. Hindman is part of Lamborghini’s Young Driver Program this season. The two lead that championship in the all-pro class by 28 points over Richard Antinucci with just two races to go, at the Lamborghini World Final to be held in Monza later this year. They won four races in a row earlier this year, one at Watkins Glen, two at Road America and one at VIR.

Lest two series be enough, Hindman also co-drove with Adam Merzon in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS class during its SprintX races, in another Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport. They won that series’ GTS Pro/Am title after five weekends of competition.

And then there were his three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship starts this year, all of which came under unique circumstances in each cars. Merzon drafted Hindman into the lineup for one of BAR1 Motorsports’ PC class Oreca FLM09s for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and they got on the podium in second place in class.

Two further GT Daytona class starts later this year were what has propelled him into the frame deserving of a full-time seat in 2018 in IMSA’s top championship. At VIR, with Ben Keating unable to drive as he tended to his family and business commitments in Texas following Hurricane Harvey, Bleekemolen came through to remember that driver who’d beat him in that one Continental race was available, and a call from that team’s principal Bill Riley was placed to see if Hindman could fill in.

Not that he already didn’t have a full dance card with both Continental and Lamborghini both racing on the same weekend.

“I always plan on staying for the main show of the weekend, the WeatherTech Championship, in order to kiss babies, shake hands, and make hay while the sun is still shining,” Hindman wrote in his post-VIR blog for Sportscar365, “The dream of every driver, on the outside looking in, is to one day get that last-second call up to drive in the WeatherTech Championship, and I was fortunate enough for that dream to become a reality this weekend at VIR.”

Surprise call-up to GTD at VIR saw Hindman on podium. Photo courtesy of IMSA

He elaborated on just how crazy it is hustling between paddocks, with two series on most weekends and third now added for this VIR one.

“I don’t feel bad about going back and forth, because that’s how you make it here,” he said. “To me it is what I live and love to do. I just love to drive! It’s that simple. Ever since I was 8 years old, pounding around in a go-kart. No matter how tired I was, that’s just what I love to do. And nothing’s changed, 14 years later.”

Hindman was tasked with running the middle stint of a two-hour, 40-minute GT only race at VIR and taking over from and handing the car back to Bleekemolen in one piece. He did so, and the pair got back on the podium.

Hindman drove both No. 48 Lamborghini (leading) and No. 26 BAR1 Oreca (trailing) this season. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Courtesy of his success in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series, Hindman also got another appointment to the GT3 variant of the Lamborghini Huracán GT3, this time with Paul Miller Racing, as the third driver with Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow at Motul Petit Le Mans. The trio finished a respectable seventh in that race, although contact with another car spoiled a potential podium finish and cost them several laps.

Of his Petit Le Mans debut, Hindman reflected, “It’s a lot more nerve-wracking to sit outside of the car for the last six or seven hours than being in the car! I’d like to thank Chris Ward and Giorgio Sanna for making this possible as well. I’m grateful for Bryan and Madison to include me and make me a part of this as well.

“For me, it was an incredible learning experience. There are certainly things I will go back and evaluate and work on. It’d be nice to work with these guys again, and be even stronger. My goal was fulfilled and that was to keep it simple and give it to Bryan and Madison without a scratch, so I’m pretty pleased.”

Hindman is a driver whose determination and taking every possible opportunity available to him has served him well as he’s grown within the sports car paddock, and stands on the precipice of making it big if he can get that next great opportunity. Having showcased his versatility with success in BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-AMG and Lamborghini machinery has also opened doors with several manufacturers.

Soft-spoken but focused, Hindman looks at each situation he’s had with open arms and tries to figure out how he can seize it.

“You’re always focused on appreciating the people you’re associated with, and the overall situation at the time,” he said. “Every time you’re racing, you’ll always be after that same feeling. You don’t know if it will be heartbreak or relief, or overall excitement if things go your way.

“It’s the high you’re always chasing.”

MRTI: Toronto digest

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Last year’s visit to the streets of Toronto for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires proved to be a pivotal point in the championship chase that year.

Kyle Kaiser swept both races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and doing so gave him firm control over the championship, and he all but clinched it ahead of the season finale at Watkins Glen – Kaiser needed to only start that event to wrap up the title.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Parker Thompson swept the weekend, Oliver Askew was caught up in a crash in Race 2. Combine that with a second place finish from 2017 title rival Rinus VeeKay – VeeKay also finished third in Race 1 – and it kept the championship within reach of VeeKay, who took it all the way to the finale at The Glen.

The 2018 visit north of the border will likely be remembered for a similar impact on the MRTI championships, both in Indy Lights and USF2000 and, maybe most significantly, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

A look at big stories to emerge from a wild weekend on the streets of Toronto is below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia scored a much needed win in Race 2 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia’s championship hopes were teetering entering the weekend – he was 49 points out of the lead and had been vastly overshadowed by title combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta for most of the season. But, his Race 2 victory combined with a second place in Race 1 to close him to within 40 points of O’Ward for the championship lead. He’s still a bit of a long shot, but his chances look much brighter leaving Toronto than they did entering.
  • More significantly, Colton Herta’s title hopes may have taken an enormous hit. After crashing in Race 1 qualifying, just after grabbing the pole as well, Herta suffered a thumb fracture that he aggravated again after crashing during Race 1. It forced the team to recommend Herta essentially sit out Race 2 – he pulled off after running only a couple laps and finished sixth – and he dropped to 18 points behind O’Ward, who won Race 1 and finished second in Race 2. The margin is hardly a commanding one for O’Ward, but with the next stop at the ultra-physical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Herta’s injured hand could remain a factor in the coming races and allow O’Ward to widen the margin.
  • One can’t help but feel bad for Victor Franzoni. Coming off the high of winning his first Indy Lights Race at Road America, Franzoni’s season took a turn for the worse. He crashed in Race 1 and then pulled off in Race 2 in order to conserve finances and resources – Franzoni detailed afterward that the budget is tight for him this year and crash damage from Race 1 does him no good. It would be a genuine shame if Franzoni’s season was derailed by funding issues, as the likeable Brazilian has made great progress all year and has the potential to make it as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. He just needs the backing to get there.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay now trails Parker Thompson by only seven points in the Pro Mazda championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • No Mazda Road to Indy Championship was shaken up as much as Pro Mazda. Parker Thompson entered the weekend with a sizeable lead of 46 points over Rinus VeeKay. He exits the weekend only seven points ahead after finishes of eighth in both races – he was involved in a crash in Race 1 and made an unscheduled pit stop after thinking he suffered suspension damage in Race 2. Meanwhile, VeeKay dominated the weekend, winning from the pole in both races. It all means that what was once looking like a possible runaway has been all but reset. And we might see a genuine duel between them all the way to the season finale at Portland International Raceway.
  • There are few words to describe the relief everyone felt in seeing Harrison Scott walk away unhurt after his frightening airborne crash in Race 1. This was the first major crash test in a race for the Tatuus PM-18, and it aced it. And big kudos should also be given to the AMR Safety Team, who were already tending to Scott barely a few seconds after his car had come to a rest. Scott did start Race 2, but pulled off with a mechanical problem…which seems minor in comparison to what could have happened in Race 1.
  • Oliver Askew had his best race of the year in Race 2, finishing second to VeeKay for his second podium of the season. It’s been a tough year for Askew and Cape Motorsports after winning last year’s USF2000 title, and getting a podium under their belt could be just what they needed heading into the season’s stretch run.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood continued his USF2000 dominance on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • After another weekend sweep, Kyle Kirkwood has one hand on the USF2000 championship. He leads Kaylen Frederick by a staggering 131 points – that’s over four road course races worth of points. He may well leave Mid-Ohio as the USF2000 champion. And even if he doesn’t, it would take something unheard of to keep the championship from his grasp.
  • Kaylen Frederick sits second, only three points up on Igor Fraga. Fraga had his best race since Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, when he finished second, and he nearly outdueled Kirkwood for the win in Race 2. Both he and Frederick have caught fire of late, and their battle for second is very evenly matched.
  • Don’t count out Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship either. The Swedish driver is seven points behind Frederick and scored his third podium of the year by finishing third in Race 2 at Toronto. Second is well within his reach.

The Mazda Road to Indy is off this weekend before heading to Mid-Ohio, where Indy Lights and USF2000 again have double headers, while Pro Mazda will enjoy a triple header.

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