Hinchcliffe’s Indianapolis 500 nightmare continues

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INDIANAPOLIS – James Hinchcliffe has lived this nightmare before when he failed to make the field for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in 2018. Most nightmares come to an end, however, as soon as someone wakes up.

In the blink of an eye Saturday, in qualifications for the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the nightmare returned.

Hinchcliffe began his initial qualification attempt at 1:20 p.m. Eastern Time and had just completed a fast lap on the first of four laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But on the second lap, Hinchcliffe’s Honda did a half-spin in Turn 2 and made hard left-side contact with the SAFER Barrier. The car rotated onto its left sidepod as it slid down the track and landed on all four tires before coming to rest on the backstretch.

Hinchcliffe was able to climb out of the car with help from the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team.

Unlike last year, when Hinchcliffe was bumped out of the 33-car starting lineup by Conor Daly with 20 minutes remaining in the session, there was time to correct the issue.

Last year, Hinchcliffe attempted to make a second attempt but had a vibration on his next qualification run. After correcting that problem, he was the last car in the inspection line waiting to go out before qualifications ended.

After his crash on Saturday, his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew quickly prepared a backup Arrow Honda with crewmembers from all three SPM teams pitching in, including teammates Marcus Ericsson and Oriol Servia.

The backup car was ready to roll about 4 p.m., and Hinchcliffe and crew returned to pit lane to the cheers of the fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When team co-owner Ric Schmidt was asked by NBCSports.com if he felt this was “Groundhog Day?,” he replied, “Yep.”

Hinchcliffe’s first attempt was woefully slow and waved off when the four-lap average was 210.745 mph. The second attempt was four-laps at 226.530 mph. The final attempt began at 5:32 p.m. and the four-lap average was 226.956 mph, again too slow to make the field.

The popular driver from Canada gets one more attempt in Sunday’s “Last Row Shootout.” Coverage will begin on NBC at Noon ET.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

He is one of six drivers fighting for the final three positions in the 33-car starting lineup. The others include two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso, IndyCar regulars Max Chilton and Pato O’Ward from Carlin, and part-time drivers Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing and Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Hinchcliffe must reset his mind and make one final four-lap attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 field for the first time since 2017.

INDYCAR Photo “Honestly, it’s part of our job,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s what we do. It’s not the first time we’ve crashed. Probably won’t be the last. So, you just have to be able to put these things behind you and close the visor tomorrow and do it again.”

Hinchcliffe’s team did an incredible job getting his backup car together and ready to go in just under 3 hours.

“Huge credit to everybody at Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, it was a big effort from the whole team to get that car out there,” Hinchcliffe said. “Everybody from each team – they jumped in and helped.

“It’s a road course car, so it doesn’t have all the extra love on it that the oval cars, the superspeedway cars have, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. We came out, made some changes and found some speed, certainly. Obviously, it wasn’t quite enough today.

“Luckily, we’ve got a chance tomorrow. I’ve got a lot of faith in the crew, everybody at Arrow, everybody at Honda, they’ve done great today to rebound from a pretty bad situation. We just have to put our heads together, find a little speed on it tomorrow and come out and put this thing in the show.”

Hinchcliffe’s accident was a big hit, but he was able to escape the massive impact uninjured. He made a quick trip to the IU Health Infield Care Center where he was examined and released.

“The car was a little bit loose in (Turns) 3 and 4 but in 1 and 2 was solid, so actually I was just preparing to dial a bit of understeer in for the north end of the track,” Hinchcliffe explained. “I don’t know if we caught a gust or the wind changed or what. When it’s windy and it’s gusty and you’re in low downforce for qualifying, unfortunately that’s the risk you run.

“I got to (Turn) 2, and it just sort of suddenly snapped on me. I don’t know if it was a gust of wind or what. Worst-case scenario is doing it again tomorrow.

“We’re prepared. Obviously, this team is … they’re professionals. They know these things can happen. I’m not worried about getting back out. We just don’t know what kind of pace we’re going to have until we get there.”

“It’s pretty much worst-case scenario. It’s pretty much our nightmare. But I have a lot of faith in the Arrow guys. We’ll get one back together, and we’ll get back out there tomorrow.”

Graham Rahal’s ‘Weighty Issue’

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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses lasers to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around. There was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“It takes a long time, I think,” Rahal said. “It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is.”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

“It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy.

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (crap), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches, and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”