James Hinchcliffe admits he was surprised by the scale of turnaround that the Arrow SPM team was able to produce to help him earn a place in the Fast Six during qualifying for IndyCar’s season finale at Laguna Seca on Saturday.
Both Arrow SPM cars had struggled during the opening part of the weekend, and Hinchcliffe told RACER that they only hit upon the change that made the difference late in the third practice session on Saturday morning.
“It’s shocking for us to think that it’s only our second Fast Six of the year, but the biggest shock is where we came from,” said Hinchcliffe, who will start tomorrow’s race from fifth on the grid.
“This whole weekend has been a huge struggle for us across all the cars — we haven’t really had the pace that we’ve had at other road courses this year. Through the test day, through Friday — even the overnight changes we made this morning weren’t good. But then halfway through P3, we took a new philosophy, threw it at it — we really had nothing to lose at that point — and put the car into the window where we could drive it.
“That was P3 after the new tire run, so I had one run on it before qualifying. It was a very different set-up, very different driving required; but the guys didn’t give up — they kept trying to find a new solution, and I’m really proud of them for getting that done today.”
Hinchcliffe expects those gains to carry over into tomorrow’s race, although as with the rest of the field, the high levels of tire degradation that have been evident through the weekend will present a challenge.
“Even on the blacks on the banker laps, we were inside the top six for all of those sessions, so luckily the balance doesn’t seem to be shifting too strong from reds to blacks,” he said. “So I think balance-wise it will be OK. It’s just how we do with degradation. That’s going to be the big thing tomorrow. The tires are falling off in a big way here, which is great because it makes the racing exciting, but it definitely makes things more complicated for us in the cockpit.”
Hinchcliffe’s road to the Fast Six included his playing an unwitting part in qualifying’s main moment of drama, when Felix Rosenqvist spun across the track during the first round. Hinchcliffe lost 0.7s avoiding the stationary Ganassi car, prompting race control to dock the Swede his two fastest laps and denying him passage into the next round — a sanction that earned a blistering rebuke from the rookie.
“That’s a tough one,” said Hinchcliffe. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to anybody from IndyCar to have them explain why it wasn’t just a yellow flag penalty and why it was an interference penalty. I want to know what the difference is. Technically you interfere with somebody when you cause a yellow, but there shouldn’t be a yellow flag penalty if that’s how they’re going to do it. But if you interfere with them by causing a yellow, it should default to the yellow.
“I mean, the point of the interference penalty in my understanding is to stop guys from blocking and holding a guy up; and that’s not what he did. He was sideways on the racetrack; he wasn’t intentionally holding me up.
“I feel bad for him. Obviously he’s been super-quick all weekend. But IndyCar made a decision, and it is what it is.”