19 May 2014
Indy 500: Hinchcliffe bounces back to front row
A week ago, a concussed James Hinchcliffe looked unlikely to race in the Indy 500, but he bounced back to secure himself a front row starting spot.
When flying debris knocked James Hinchcliffe out during the inaugural road race at Indianapolis the weekend before qualifying for the Indy 500, it looked touch and go whether or not the popular Canadian would be able to return to the cockpit in time to get himself into the biggest race of the year.
Hinchcliffe was sat out for five days after being diagnosed with concussion, during which time the #27 Andretti Autosport car was worked on by stand-in driver EJ Viso. Hinchcliffe wasn't finally declared fit to return to duty until Thursday.
"Knowing I'm going to a dark room that is going to determine my fate, it wasn't the most comforting feeling certainly," he recalled of the crucial medical re-evaluation. "It was more nerves I think than any lasting effect from the accident ... When those results came in, it was a huge relief. They determined I'm just as brain-dead as I was before!"
Unfortunately the weather then conspired against him and he got only a few minutes of running on Fast Friday. He was going into qualifying sorely lacking in preparation - and yet he still went on to secure himself a place in the Fast 9 shootout on Saturday, and then a front row position on Pole Day.
"To think about the fact a week ago I wasn't allowed to operate a cell phone," said Hinchcliffe after securing second place on the grid. "I was lucky that I don't remember the accident so I didn't have any nerves to get over.
"[That] I'm whipping an IndyCar around IMS at 230-something miles an hour is pretty incredible," he marvelled. "It's only because of so many people, everything from the doctors, my family taking care of me at home, all my team mates who did such a good job getting these cars ready.
"I jumped in Friday, one run, look where we ended up. Big thanks to Kurt [Busch], Carlos [Munoz], Marco [Andretti], Ryan [Hunter-Reay] and EJ, everybody at Andretti Autosport," he added. "I had to kind of pretend I had been here all month and take the feedback my team mates were giving me at face value. I knew what to expect from the car, and that was a huge part of it.
Not that it had been an easy ride to success: "The thing was a handful. I was working pretty hard for it. Into turn three on the last lap, it stepped out on entry a little bit, I had to take some wheel out of it, made for some understeer on exit. You don't have time for correction. I knew I had to crack the throttle. I was screaming in my helmet down the front stretch.
"I was working on the tools like crazy," he continued. "I had to crack the throttle. I don't think anybody's ever been on pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway cracking the throttle over four laps, so I kind of knew right then and there [that I wasn't going to get pole.]"
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