Hinchcliffe happy with Toronto comeback, aims for Iowa repeat

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Coming off the longest week of his NTT IndyCar Series season and a stellar performance at his home race in Toronto, James Hinchcliffe hopes to ride the momentum gained in the Honda Indy Toronto at Iowa Speedway, where he won the Iowa 300 last year.

This weekend’s event begins with Friday practice and qualifying followed by Saturday’s Iowa 300 at 7 p.m. ET (TV: NBCSN, Radio: Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, SiriusXM Channel 209).

After a spending the week leading into the Toronto race scurrying from one event to another to satisfy everyone who wanted a piece of him, Hinchcliffe has little time to soak in the success of moving up eights spots from 14th on the grid to finish a strong sixth, making his the biggest gainer of the race.

On top of all the off-track commitments, the race also made things more difficult than usual with only one full course caution on the opening lap and another on the final one. Without the expected bunching of the field in Toronto never happened and climbing up the leaderboard was all up to speed and racecraft but that made the result even more satisfying.

“The way the race played out we didn't get a lot of help and there weren't any yellows, so the strategy was kind of standard across the board and we had to do it on the racetrack,” Hinchcliffe said.

“We had a really good first lap and picked up a bunch of spots and capitalized on other guys having either misfortune or mistake and kept our nose clean and kept it clean in the pits.”

The checkered flag in Toronto marked the end of the first of three races in three weeks that will test the stamina of the drivers. For Hinchcliffe, it comes after a week where his schedule is even more hectic than the lead-up to the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe would like to get little time to rest before Iowa where the gruelling 0.875-mile oval where the cars reach speeds of 180 mph and must withstand a consistent 5Gs of force for much of the quick 17-second lap. Instead he'll have two days to relax before heading to Iowa later this week and hoping to pick up where he left off in Toronto.

“Normally, we have the weekend off after this race, which is always nice — I don't mind a weekend off after the week and everything building up to this one, but it is what it is,” said Hinchcliffe, who returned to Indianapolis on Monday after hosting his annual post-race Hinchtown Afterparty on Sunday night.

“But we go to Iowa, which is obviously a place that we enjoy and we've done well there in the past, so fingers crossed we can kind of keep the momentum going and keep knocking on the door.”

The good news is that even though Hinchcliffe has had struggles in qualifying this year, his car seems to come alive in most races which allows him to move up the field once the green flag flies.

That was the scenario that played out in Toronto, where his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports ended up in the bottom half of the qualifying grid – 14th -- and had to fight his way forward in the 85-lap race.

“This team has been really good on Sundays all year long and we've had some qualifying issues some of them self-inflicted and some of them just bad luck,” Hinchcliffe said. “But the race car always seems to be really good and so we've taken some solace in that.”

More importantly for Hinchcliffe is the fact that he didn't qualify well in Iowa last year and still won. The Arrow SPM driver started 11th and got faster as the race wore on. He took the lead with about 50 laps to go and scored his sixth career victory just weeks after failing to make the field for last year's Indianapolis 500.

“It's not like we had a blistering car all weekend long in Iowa last year — our car came alive in the second half of the race,” he said. “(Arrow SPM teammate) Marcus (Ericsson) tested there a few weeks ago with some success and hopefully with the information we have, we can roll off the truck and be in a competitive window.”

On the other hand, the race Hinchcliffe excelled at last year will run at 6:10 p.m. local time rather than the afternoon start of 2018, something that could change the Iowa 300 substantially.

“It's still a tire degradation race but with it being more of a night race it's not going to be as dramatic because the track temperature will be down a little bit so that will help everybody,” he said. “But you've got to be good over a stint, you've to be good on the high line, you've to be good on the low line and on a short track you are always going to be in traffic so you have to be able to get around guys. Wherever they want to run, you have to be able to run somewhere else.”

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