According to David Malsher, James Hinchcliffe who is the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s star is in the perfect position to explain why this temple of speed is so unique. The highs and lows of racing are amplified at the iconic 2.5-mile oval in Speedway, and everything is extreme because no one can be relaxed about average laps speeds of more than 225mph. This has become sacred ground throughout 102 Indianapolis 500s.
A win at Indy means more than anywhere else. A current IndyCar driver said that there is no race in the world where second place is more meaningless than at Indy. No one goes into the Indianapolis 500 thinking about points. Hinchcliffe pitched his Arrow SPM-Honda into Turn 1 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at around 230mph during testing last week.
James Hinchcliffe first competed in the 500 in 2011 and fought in the Freedom 100, the Indy Lights support race at IMS, in ’09 and ’10. However, he first attended the 500 in 2008 and was struck even then by the majesty of the event. He said the track has so much history, the race has so much history, and when people talk about the tradition, it all sounds regurgitated at this point. James stated that when a person knows when he unloads the car at the start of the two weeks of practice anything is possible, and any one of the 33 cars that start that race could end up in Victory Lane.
James himself cites his 2011 rookie campaign as one such when he qualified 13th on the 33-car grid, but retired at half-distance after making contact with a wall. It was his first oval race in an IndyCar, and he was taking it all in, so he didn’t go in with that thought of winning. He was the awestruck kid in a candy store. A guy like Michael Andretti who led so many times there and never won it, and you look at the trials and tribulations that Tony Kanaan went through before he ended up in Victory Lane.
Hinchcliffe said that an IndyCar never runs freer of down force than in Indy qualifying; therefore, a person always has his hands full. Moving to Andretti Autosport for three years changed Indy for Hinchcliffe because now he was with a team that had won there before. He felt the burden of expectation, not just from others but also from his own desire to do justice to both a reliable car and his talent. He qualified on the front row for two of the three years he was with Michael’s team, and he was there for Ryan Hunter-Reay’s win for the team in 2014. He learned from the inside what made them successful at the Speedway, so when he joined Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, he brought that knowledge and experience.
If you go to Indy with a multi-car entry, you get a sense very early on that there’s a distinct pecking order among the cars, but it’s not quite the luck of the draw. However, there’s just something about how the cars are fitted together whereby some microscopic differences will set the order of the cars for the entire time you’re there. He said that in 2014 at Indy, Ryan was always the fifth of the five Andretti cars on the pure no-tow pace when you could make direct comparisons, which was immensely frustrating for him, and he wound up 19th on the grid. But whenever they went out in packs, to do mock race runs and practice getting tows from teammates and others, Ryan was passing any and every car around him. They had all been fixated on the fact that his car had been the slowest of the five when running on its own, but remember noticing how amazingly good his car was in traffic. And sure enough, race day, Ryan drove his way to the front and went on to win the Indy 500.
Eventually, James admitted that his pole-winning run in 2016 had special meaning after the trauma of the year before. He said when one talks about that Pole Day, and it’s wise to avoid terms like ‘destiny calling’ or ‘the hand of fate’: that denigrates the efforts made by Arrow SPM’s leaders, engineers, mechanics, and drivers to improve their collective performance at the Speedway. Something was spellbinding about the fact that Hinchcliffe’s four-lap run at an average speed of 230.760mph sent him to the top of the charts. He said they had a decent practice week, but it wasn’t until they got to Fast Friday that things started clicking into place.
He said that people tend to forget that what he had been through the year before was not something that he did alone and sounds like a cliché but everybody on that race team was like family and they’d all been affected by accident. There’s a sense of real pride in being able to say that you built the fastest car around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on any given year, so it felt a sweet comeback for all involved.
Winning is the only milestone Hinchcliffe have left there but Indianapolis doesn’t owe anybody anything, and that’s part of the allure of the place. Possibly, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is a team capable of getting the job done and capable of getting the job done. Last week, Robert Wickens explained how he and Hinchcliffe could help familiarize their rookie Arrow SPM teammate Marcus Ericsson with oval racing, but no one could prepare him for the Indianapolis 500 as an event and the extreme emotions it can evoke.