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IndyCar: More surgery rules Hinchcliffe out for 2015

Further surgery means that Schmidt Peterson Motorsport driver James Hinchcliffe won't be back in the car before the end of the 2015 season.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's James Hinchcliffe has been ruled out of competition for the rest of the year, but the popular Canadian insisted that his recovery is going well and that there is absolutely no question of his retiring from the sport anytime soon.

And while he won't be in the car, the Mayor of Hinchtown will nonetheless be back in the thick of things this weekend in Toronto serving as the grand marshal of his home event, the Honda Indy Toronto on June 14.

“We are very excited to have James as grand marshal,” Honda Indy Toronto president Charlie Johnstone said. “Although he is unable to race, it is important to us, and to him, that he is involved in the race in some capacity, being as this is his home town event."

"As soon as the doc says it's all right, you're going to see me sitting with a headset on trackside for sure," Hinchcliffe had promised. "As soon as I'm medically cleared to do so, I'll be doing that."

Hinchcliffe spoke to reporters on a mid-week teleconference from his home in Indianapolis, where he is recovering since being released from hospital at the end of May following his horror smash in practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ahead of the 99th running of the Indy 500.

A piece of the #5 car's front right suspension penetrated his upper left thigh and caused major blood loss at the scene. Only rapid action by the Holmatro safety team averted a life-threatening situation for the driver.

"Knowing that I've been speared by the suspension, once that was sort of established, they realised what that could mean, what kind of injuries come along with that," he explained. "Then certainly seeing, as I'm told, how pale I looked, the pool forming in the bottom of the car, they made quick decisions. They were life-altering decisions in a sense.

"We are so fortunate in IndyCar to have the safety team," continued Hinchcliffe. "It is no doubt in my mind a contributing factor to me surviving that accident, was not only having a safety team there, but one with the kind of skills and experience these guys have.

"Having an understanding of racing, having an understanding of the kind of injuries that can happen in a race car. It gives them such a leg up. You know, you can have the best surgeon in the world, but if he doesn't have a grasp of what could potentially be wrong, it's going to take him that much longer to really diagnose the problem. In a situation like mine, there wasn't any longer to diagnose the problem.

"I'm not just saying this because I had an accident. I've said this for years. I know other drivers, every other driver out there, mimics this thought," he added. "It's the best insurance policy, in a sense, that you can have. It's tough to put into words how comforting it is as a driver to know that we have that on hand."

Hinchcliffe revealed that he had no memories of the accident itself, or of any of the events in the hours that followed.

"Despite being conscious throughout the whole process, I have mercifully been spared any memory of the accident whatsoever, of the extrication. Even the first couple days at the hospital are a bit of a blur," he confirmed. "I'm not sure if it's some sort of defence mechanism or biology taken over.

"For me, I remember waking up in ICU, knowing that obviously I'd had an accident, that I was somewhere I probably shouldn't be, all the rest of it, but it really wasn't until several days later when I'd been moved out of ICU, was kind of sitting around with some friends and family and some of the doctors, really hearing all of their first-person accounts of how that day was for them, that it really began to sink in just how serious the injuries were and how very close it was to being a different story. That was a first time I had an appreciation of the severity of the situation."

It didn't take Hinchcliffe long to want answers about what had happened to him.

"On a ventilator, I had to write on a piece of paper. I asked what happened, they told me part of the car broke. I asked which part, trying to figure it all out," he recalled. "[Later on,] I sat with my engineers. I sat with my chief mechanic. I looked at the tub. I've been to the shop and seen the tub, seen the damage." He's also now watched the video of the crash "many times", he admitted.

"It's equal parts fascinating and terrifying, to be honest. It was literally one of those one in a million situations. The part that failed is a part that we have almost no recorded failures of ever," he said. "That is literally a piece that has almost a zero percent failure rate, so it really was a bizarre situation in the first place. Obviously with the suspension coming through the tub, again, another situation we haven't seen in quite some time.

"Honestly, I was just unlucky. At the same time I was incredibly lucky, not only for the safety team being there. As the doctors will tell you, if that piece had been five millimetres in a different direction, it might not have been a survivable injury. I'm the luckiest unlucky guy, some combination therein."

An accident of this type coming literally out of the blue without any warning can have a major psychological effect on anyone, even a race car driver who accepts the danger inherent in motorsports.

"It's very sobering and kind of a scary thought that something out of your control can have such an impact on your life essentially," Hinchcliffe agreed. "But you know, that's the nature of the beast. That's the game we play. We play it willingly.

"I know I'll be back. I live to race another day," adding that quitting the sport he loves is not an option as far as he's concerned. "I certainly never contemplated it. If anyone around me was thinking about it, they were smart enough not to say anything. I think everybody close to me knows that wouldn't be something that was on my mind."

Now out of danger and out of hospital, Hinchcliffe is firmly on the mend and said that his recovery was going as well - or even better - than he and his doctors had been hoping for, adding that his biggest problem at the moment was that "daytime television sucks in this country!"

"The biggest decision I have every day is how much time I want to spend sitting on the couch versus lying in bed. It's very stressful and strenuous, as you can imagine," he joked.

"No, in all seriousness, my condition improves almost daily. I still do spend a significant amount of the day kind of off my feet. The nature of my injuries were such that it kind of makes getting around a little bit difficult, but that is improving daily. I'm keeping track of a number of steps taken each day. Slowly I've been given permission from the doctors to increase that.

"Honestly, it's going better than expected," he added. "Every doctor that I've seen, every specialist that we've been with has been very, very pleased and in some cases surprised at the level of recovery, which is obviously great news. I guess we're quick in that sense, too, which is good."

However, the 28-year-old said that he would need to undergo further surgery before he could complete his recuperation, which almost certainly means he will play no further part in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series that finishes at the end of August.

"Still no dates on when we think we'll be able to get back in the car. There's still a few things that have to happen for that to take place.

"Without going into details, it's another surgery where I have to be opened from the abdomen to undo some things that were done during the emergency surgery, just to keep me healthy and safe," he explained. "We're looking at sometime in the next four to six weeks to schedule that surgery. There's some other things that have to happen, some other bits that have to heal before we can schedule that.

"Unfortunately it's the kind of surgery that is of the nature that will put me down again for another couple weeks. Any time you go into the abdomen, there's a lengthy recovery. That's kind of the difficult part to swallow. At the same time it's necessary to be done.

"Then it should be another four to six weeks before I'm kind of back to the gym and really getting back into a full training regimen," he added. "The sooner we get that one going, the sooner I can get the rest of the recovery, get back to the gym, think about getting back into the car."

In the meantime however, any physical exertion is firmly off the agenda. "I've been reading a lot, catching up on things like that. It's almost like the best vacation you never wanted," he joked. "The latest one I got through was actually a book called 'The Martian' by Andy Weir. A guy gets marooned on Mars. A pretty good read.

"Movement is very good," he continued. "At the same time you don't want to overdo anything or aggravate anything. That has been a big challenge, trying to stay active, but at the same time giving the body the rest it needs to recover, making sure you don't push it too hard.

"I'm obviously not allowed to exercise any of my body, but I was told I could keep my forearm strength good, so I had my trainer drop off anything that was grip strength related so I can hold onto the wheel when I eventually get tossed back into a car.

"It's largely an existence of trying to rest up and get better," he explained. "We're getting there, but you have good days and bad days. You have days where it's a little easier to move, days where it's obviously a bit more difficult, you're managing pain a bit more. Those days are getting fewer and fewer and further in between. That's progress as far as I'm concerned.

"I'm almost completely off pain medication now, which is great. One of the most uncomfortable parts of it has been the fracture to my pelvis," he said. "Obviously there's not a whole lot you can do about that. At the same time there's really nothing you can do to alleviate any discomfort either. Especially for the first few days, once I got out of hospital, that was the biggest discomfort, but obviously not the most severe injury."

Frustrating though his enforced 'vacation' is, Hinchcliffe has been busy filling his time at home, watching the races and even able to give the command to start engines for the Firestone 600 last weekend via video link to Texas Motor Speedway. He's also still as involved in the team effort as he can be in the circumstances.

"I've still been kept as part of the team," he confirmed. "Sitting down and turning the TV on and watching the race - I love having it to watch. I'm still getting the pre- and post-race reports ... As much as I want to be in the car, if I can't be, I want to see it running up front for everybody at [sponsors] Arrow and everybody at Schmidt Peterson."

His vacant race seat was filled by Ryan Briscoe at Indianapolis and Texas, while Conor Daly took over for the two races of the Dual in Detroit doubleheader and will be back in the #5 again this weekend for what would have been Hinch's home race in Canada.

"I'm doing what I can, again, remotely, trying to be as active as I can in helping whether it's Ryan or Conor, obviously James [Jakes] in the #7 car, to tackle that challenge because this is still essentially my car and I'm still going to have to get back in it at some point," he said. "The more we can improve it in my absence, the better. I'm trying to be as involved in that as possible.

"I had Conor over here at the house a couple days ago, or yesterday actually even, talking Toronto, trying to get him as prepared as possible," he continued, adding that he really wanted to be at the Toronto event this weekend.

At the time he spoke to reporters, the decision on whether he was well enough to travel to Canada had been frustratingly out of his hands, but his own intentions had been clear. "There are obviously a lot of people that would have to sign off on me going," he said. "I'd love to be there."

Now it's been confirmed he will be, and that means he'll be the star of the show once again, even though he won't be in a race car for a few months to come.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
A special message for James Hinchcliffe during the Indianapolis 500 Victory Banquet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
James Hinchcliffe at IMS (Photo by: Jim Haines)
James Hinchcliffe at IMS (Photo by: Mike Harding)
James Hinchcliffe celebrates victory in the Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana on Sunday, April 12, 2015. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
James Hinchcliffe gives the command to fire engines for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 6 2015. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
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