Speed has been elusive for James Hinchcliffe and his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team on big ovals this season. With their well-documented travails at Indianapolis in mind, Texas Motor Speedway presented the Canadian and his No. 5 Honda team a perfect chance to put May in the rearview mirror and start anew.
The same pursuit of speed has continued, however, after Hinchcliffe qualified 15th out of 22 cars for tonight’s race, and with his rookie teammate set to start fourth, the distance between the SPM entries has led the team searching for answers that aren’t readily apparent.
“I think this group has been through a lot of ups and downs, and every time you go through a period of struggle, regardless of what it is, we come out stronger,” Hinchcliffe told RACER after placing 20th in final practice. “This is one of those character-building segments of our season.
“We know there’s a deficit, we’ve tried all the traditional tricks in the books to try and find it, and it’s not there. We know what these races are like, staying out of trouble and being smart can yield a good result. Is it an ideal situation? No. But we’ve got the best people around us to make the most of the situation.”
For SPM team manager Taylor Kiel (pictured above), maintaining morale within the No. 5 crew he looks after is an active part of the job when a downturn in performance arrives.
“It is human nature to get frustrated,” he said. “We’re all super competitive, that’s why we’re here, and we all want to win. When we don’t, we want to learn, and we want to do it with class and grace. It starts with the driver, with [SPM general manager] Piers [Phillips], with me, carrying ourselves in a manner that tells everyone it’s going to be OK, we’ll get through this.”
With the heartbreak at Indy still fresh in their minds, and a new race engineer in Will Anderson to groom on Hinchcliffe’s timing stand, Kiel sees setting reasonable expectations as the smartest way forward.
“We can’t win every race, but you can carry yourself in a way you can be proud of while we learn what we need to learn to work ourselves out of this,” he said. “And we will get there. We want to be atop the podium, and we have the confidence we’ll get there because we have incredibly good people.”