James Hinchcliffe facing another ‘nightmare’ at Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS – Assessing his team’s suddenly dire situation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, James Hinchcliffe had a rather succinct assessment after a spin and heavy impact on his second lap of qualifying.

“It’s our nightmare,” the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver said after being checked and cleared to drive at the care center. “No doubt about it.”

Unfortunately, nightmare scenarios are becoming all too familiar for at the Brickyard for Hinchcliffe, who is in danger of failing to qualify at Indy for the third time in five years.

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He escaped Saturday afternoon’s crash in Turn 2 with a bruised knee, which is at least better than four years ago when Hinchcliffe crashed and sustained life-threatening injuries after a suspension part pierced his thigh.

Last year, he failed to qualify for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing after his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was bumped because of a lack of speed.

Indianapolis often has been a tough place for the affable Toronto native, who nearly missed the Indy 500 in 2014 after sustaining a concussion during a crash in the inaugural IndyCar Grand Prix.

He rebounded to win the pole for the 2016 Indy 500 (completing an impressive comeback), but he crashed out of the 2017 race.

“My patience is wearing thin,” Hinchcliffe said with a thin smile when asked about his fortunes on the 2.5-mile oval.

How would he reset after another setback?

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

“The guys have obviously worked really hard at getting the car together. We made a lot of progress yesterday on Fast Friday. Making it better. Making it faster. I don’t know if we got free on trim or downforce or what. We’ll take a look at it, see what happened, get another car together and try to be smarter tomorrow.”

There were at least a few positives as he tried to qualify for his seventh Indy 500.

His car seemed comfortable before he lost control in Turn 2 (possibly because of a wind gust), and teammates Marcus Ericsson, Oriol Servia and Jack Harvey had solid speed in qualifying.

Though Hinchcliffe initially doubted whether his team could have his backup ready in time to make another run Saturday (with inclement weather looming Sunday), but he returned to the track less than three hours after smacking the SAFER barrier.

But his team waved off the first attempt as he shook the car down, and his next two attempts weren’t fast enough to crack the top 30 that locked into the race Saturday.

Even though he faces a nerve-wracking Sunday of being one of six drivers fighting for the final three spots in the field, Hinchcliffe still was buoyed by the effort with a car that was tailored to road courses and not ovals.

“It’s a huge credit to Arrow Schmidt Peterson; everyone jumped in and helped,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “The road course car doesn’ t have the love on it that ovals and superspedway cars have. We made some changes, had some speed, but it obviously wasn’t enough. I have a lot of faith in the crew. We just have to put our heads together and come out tomorrow and put it in the show.

“There are tricks of the trade to find some speed. It’s a great effort for the guys. And it’s weird to think this isn’t the worst qualifying day we’ve had here.”

Even if the second day of qualifying were rained out Sunday, IndyCar plans to hold a final session for the six slowest cars whenever good weather permits (Monday, if necessary).

“I’m getting pretty good at not panicking here,” Hinchcliffe said. “Yeah. It’s obviously a sup-optimal situation as they would say in the engineering atlas, but I have a lot of faith in the Arrow car, the Arrow crew are top notch. We’ll get our car back on track tomorrow and try to put it in the show.

Hinchcliffe had a knowing answer when asked whether this was the worst-case scenario.

“Well, the worst-case scenario is doing it again tomorrow,” he said as his voice trailed off.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.