A year ago, James Hinchcliffe was one and done at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, figuratively speaking. Sure, he had multiple chances to qualify on Saturday, but when he wasn’t fast enough to crack the Top 30, that was it. He got no second chance on Sunday, and was left on the outside looking in at the Indianapolis 500 in one of those shocking moments that always creates drama and heartache.
The popular Canadian veteran had a similar scenario last Saturday when he couldn’t get his Arrow SPM Honda going quick enough to lock into a spot the 103rd Indianapolis 500. But IndyCar president Jay Frye tweaked the rules this month to give teams a second chance if something went wrong on Saturday, and Hinch made the most of the opportunity, joining Sage Karam and Kyle Kaiser in qualifying for the May 26th classic as they survived the Last Row Shootout where six drivers went for three spots.
“I liked it (qualifying format) before but I really like it now,” said the 2016 Indy pole-sitter with a smile. “In a lot of ways, what happened to us was part of the reason that rule was changed, and what happened to us this year is exactly the kind of situation that benefits from it.
“It’s a nerve-racking feeling to know you only have one shot to get it done, and I’m getting too old for this stuff. But we made it, and that’s what counts.”
Of course what happened was that Hinch had a big crash on Friday and nearly got upside-down, destroying his primary car. His team did a miraculous job and had his backup car on the track in less than three hours. They didn’t get it handling properly on Saturday in three tries, but knew they’d have another chance (one shot for four laps) on Sunday and made the most of it, posting a solid 227.543 mph average and restoring some normalcy to his team.
“Had it been the old rules, we would have three shots and not got in and be sitting here 365 days later in same the seat we were a year ago, which would have been devastating,” Hinchcliffe said. “For me, I think it’s great and it does add a little bit of drama, as long as we have enough cars to make it a cool session. It was crazy and I was nervous, but I think it’s a cool thing. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it and it kind of made today a little special.”
Hinch spent a good deal of time praising his crew for their hustle and tenacity, but also recognized the pain of his fellow competitors.
“My heart goes out to Pato (O’Ward), Max (Chilton) and Fernando (Alonso),” he said. “We all know how much goes into this race and how much it means to everyone, and I’ve been on the other side and I know how much it sucks. I hate that we have to send guys home today.”