It’s May in Indianapolis, but for James Hinchcliffe, something naturally feels amiss as a resident of the city that won’t have its beloved world-famous race this month.
“It’s so bizarre,” Hinchcliffe said during a Tuesday interview on “Lunch Talk Live” with host Mike Tirico. “I live in Indianapolis, I know it’s just down the street, but it’s crazy to think you’re spending all this time rather than at the racetrack.
“I’ve never sat in my backyard around the pool in May before. You’re always stressed out at the track in engineering meetings, living out of the bus, so you miss a lot of what May really means because this town and this city, they really do get behind the race from the minute the calendar strikes May 1 and missing some of that stuff, even when the race does happen in August, it’s not going to be quite the same, but it’s still Indy.”
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The 104th running of the rescheduled Indianapolis 500 will be held Aug. 23 on NBC, which will be revisiting the highlights of last year’s race Sunday. Tirico will be the host of “Back Home Again” as 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Alexander Rossi revisit their epic battle.
There is an IndyCar race on the horizon, though, as Texas Motor Speedway finally will open the 2020 season June 6 after a nearly three-month pause because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Unlike NASCAR, which hit the track Sunday at Darlington Raceway without practice or qualifying, IndyCar will have a full warmup (on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold) leading into the green flag at Texas – which will mark the first race since Laguna Seca Raceway last September.
“For the most part everyone’s racecraft is going to to be a bit rusty, and we’re going to one of the most daunting places in Texas Motor Speedway,” Hinchcliffe said. “So the challenges for us are going to be just getting us up to speed. It’s a very difficult track, and the margins for error are small, and the cost of error are quite high.
“Again, it’s going to be a game of patience. We have an hour and a half of practice straight into qualifying and the race. There are a bunch of rookies that have never raced at Texas. There’s one driver (rookie Alex Palou) that has yet to turn a lap in either testing or practice at Texas. It’s going to be a learning experience in a lot of ways.”
It’ll be a good experience for Hinchcliffe, who will be racing at Texas with Andretti Autosports (along with the Indy 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course July 4) after originally expecting to be working as an IndyCar on NBC analyst in the since postponed March 15 opener at St. Petersburg, Florida (which has been moved to the season finale on Oct. 25).
The Canadian is looking forward to be “suited and booted” at Texas instead of fully on camera as he’d been preparing to do at St. Pete with mixed emotions.
“It was tough; I was getting a little bit of FOMO,” Hinchcliffe said. “Definitely wanted to be on the grid, but at the same time, I was really embracing this new opportunity with NBC Sports Network.
“I’d done a ton of research and a ton of prep, and it’s kind of a baptism by fire situation. You have to learn on the job in a lot of ways. So I was excited to get started and get my feet wet there. I’ll obviously still get that opportunity at some point later in the season now. It’s cool to know for Race 1 at least, it’ll be with helmet instead of a microphone, and then we’ll switch gears back to the other job.”