WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — While awaiting medical clearance to resume driving after a concussion, James Hinchcliffe’s thoughts of competing in the Indianapolis 500 went from apprehension to appreciation.
“It was the not knowing, that was the hard part,” said Hinchcliffe, who qualified second for the 500 after being cleared to return.
“As a racing driver, we’re all control freaks basically, and not knowing and having your future in someone else’s hands like that in a sense, it was very nerve-wracking.
Hinchcliffe sustained a concussion when struck in the head by debris from another car in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10. He missed five days while waiting to be cleared and then qualified second, despite limited practice time.
“You feel like you’re falling behind,” the 27-year-old Canadian said Tuesday at an Indy Car event in Milwaukee, site of a race in August.
“The nature of this sport is, the guys that win are the guys that work harder than the other people. That’s in life. That’s a pretty universal truth. So, I’ve always lived by that and I’ve always worked very hard. I’ve always tried very hard. It was so counterintuitive that in this case, to do the best job and to try the hardest, it was to do nothing.”
After most of Friday’s practice was rained out, and one day of qualifying runs on Saturday, Hinchcliffe averaged 230.839 mph in Sunday’s qualifying, which was the fastest until Ed Carpenter averaged 231.067 mph as the last driver to attempt to qualify.
“Basically, I had a day,” Hinchcliffe said. “If I couldn’t have a single run before attempting to qualify, they probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable putting me in a car.
“But, I did get one run on Friday and then I think we did one run on Saturday morning. So, I think my first qualifying attempt was like my ninth lap of the month.”
Carpenter shared the Milwaukee appearance with Hinchcliffe. Carpenter said he was glad that Hinchcliffe was cleared to race.
“It would be torture,” Carpenter said. “Honestly, all the drivers were so happy that he was able to make it back, because to have to miss that race of all races. Every one of us waits the whole year to get back to Indy every year.
“It wouldn’t be fair for any driver to have to sit out for an injury.”
Hinchcliffe agreed that the fact that it was the Indianapolis 500 as opposed to another race made it more difficult.
“Racing is difficult to compare to other sports for a lot of reasons in a lot ways,” Hinchcliffe said. “For us, this our playoffs, this is our Super Bowl, this is our World Series. Nobody wants to be sidelined for any race, but if you have to be sidelined for one, good god, anything but the 500.”
As part of the event at the Milwaukee Mile, fans were allowed to walk the oval behind a slow-moving minivan carrying Carpenter and Hinchcliffe. The drivers faced backward out of the van and answered questions from track officials and fans in an informal conversation.
“That was really impressive,” said Hinchcliffe, adding that he had never been part of an event like that.
“I think it gives the fans a unique perspective on everything and gave them an opportunity to ask a lot of questions, which was great. And actually get out on the racing surface. It was very cool.”
Scott Gerloski, 51, who lives in the Milwaukee area and described himself as an avid race fan, appreciated the chance to meet and talk with the drivers in an informal setting.
“It’s a great way to connect with the fans,” Gerloski said. “It just made me have new favorite drivers in the sport. I don’t follow Indy as closely as I once did only due to driver unfamiliarity, but these two guys I know now. I know these guys, I like these guys and I’m going to pull for them.”