News

You are here

James Hinchcliffe Praises IndyCar Safety Measures

By Norris McDonald May 22, 2019

Last Saturday afternoon, during a qualifying session for this Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500, James Hinchcliffe crashed his Arrows Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Indy racing car into the second-turn wall of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The open-wheel, open-cockpit car careered toward the backstretch and very nearly turned over before coming to a halt on all four wheels. Hinchcliffe, his red-coloured crash helmet sticking right out there for all to see, wasn’t injured. But two other IndyCar drivers in recent years, Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson, weren’t as lucky and were killed while racing at tracks in Nevada and Pennsylvania.

When Formula One driver Jules Bianchi died as the result of a head injury suffered during the 2014 Japanese GP, the sport’s governing body, the FIA, ordered that action be taken and a solution found. By 2018, all F1 cars — as well as all other European formula-type racing cars that feed into F1 — were equipped with a “halo” device that protects the driver if the car flips over. It can also possibly stop projectiles from flying into the cockpit.

The NTT IndyCar Series cars, all made by Italian chassis manufacturer Dallara Ajutomobili, still don’t have similar protection, and that’s a concern for some people. But that’s about to change. According to Hinchcliffe, who was in Toronto on Tuesday to promote interest in the Indy 500 (where he’ll start 32nd) as well as the Honda Indy Toronto in July, an announcement will soon be made regarding IndyCar safety. He went so far as to suggest that whatever’s revealed will be superior to the halo.

“I think the solution that IndyCar is working on is ultimately what will become the industry standard (for cockpit safety) in the years to come,” Hinchcliffe said. “In fact, I can also tell you with some confidence that there are many factions over in Europe who think that the FIA rushed the halo.”

Hinchcliffe, who sits 10th in the IndyCar standings going into the 500, said he was surprised at the progress made since IndyCar started to study cockpit protection.

“IndyCar has never rested,” he said. “They admit they’re behind where they wanted to be. But I’ve seen what they’re working on — sorry, can’t be more specific — and it’s coming way sooner than I thought it would come. Based on the last meeting I had, I’m very excited. I think the last thing (IndyCar president) Jay Frye wants anybody to think is that IndyCar is dragging its feet.

“Somebody at the corner of Sixteen Street and Georgetown Road in Indianapolis (where the Speedway is located and IndyCar has its offices) is working on this every day and will be until it’s on the car. And that announcement, by the way, might even be made before we come to race in Toronto.”

The Oakville racer, who managed to squeeze his way into the 33-car field last Sunday (like two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso this year, Hinchcliffe missed out on making the field a year ago), said he plans to take it easy for a lap or two once he takes the green flag on Sunday. He sent out a Tweet saying he would be heading for the front, but a lot can happen between the back row and the front row, particularly when everybody is letting it all hang out while heading toward Turn 1.

“A lot of our strategy will revolve around the guys we’re starting near,” he said. “A lot of guys without a ton of 500 experience are around us, so more than likely the plan off the start will be to get through the first couple of laps. I remember in 2011 how crazy it was back there on a restart; just the amount of dirty air you have to drive through is unbelievable. It was chaos.

“I think there’s enough time in this race to make our moves once everybody settles in. I think our car is going to be better than many of the ones around us, so hopefully we can get through that early in the race without having to be aggressive on the start itself. As the old saying goes, ‘You can’t win it in the first corner. ...’ 

“Of course, if the gap’s there, I’ll be going for it!”

Hinchcliffe and the other 32 drivers will have one more one-hour practice session Friday before the race Sunday. And if it’s not him, on whom does he suggest bets be placed? Pole-sitter Simon Pagenaud? Last year’s 500 winner Will Power? Marco Andretti, 50 years after grandfather Mario won it?

No one, says Hinchcliffe. 

“This series is too competitive at the moment to call a winner,” he said. “It could be any one of all the rest of the drivers in the race. Yes, that’s what it’s like out there now. It’s that close.”

Make A Monthly Donation

  • Other: $

DONATE NOW

Pay tribute to the memory of someone special by making a memorial donation. The motorsport world is as thrilling as it is dangerous and sometimes even the best drivers, marshals and fans get taken from us too soon. Honor a loved one with your contribution and help fund our safety-related programs in their name. Click Here.

This story was first published on The Toronto Star. Read the original article here.