It might not mean a whole lot at this stage of the game, but the fact that Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe set the fastest time during practice Tuesday for next weekend’s Indianapolis 500 time trials means Indy car racing’s hottest driver is settling nicely into a groove for a run at pole position.
Hinchcliffe, the 26-year-old super nova who’s won two of the four IZOD IndyCar Series races to date, put the hammer down at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and turned a speed of 224.210 miles an hour (40:1410 seconds around the 2.5-mile oval race track), albeit while driving teammate Marco Andretti’s car to exchange notes.
Andretti, meantime, drove Hinchcliffe’s GoDaddy-sponsored Green Machine to the third-fastest time of the day, going 223.570 mph. The Andretti Autosport teammates were split by second-fastest driver J.R. Hildebrand, who went 223.652 mph.
In all, 34 driver-car combinations turned time while preparing for Saturday’s time trials that will determine who will start first and so on back to 33 and last when the 97th 500-mile race goes to the post on Sunday, May 26th.
Said Hinchcliffe: "Marco (Andretti) is pretty angry with me now. Not only did I rock a big tow, which he is famous for, but I did it in his car, so "Marco Tow-dretti" is pretty upset with me now.
"It's good to be up there, but at the end of the day, those numbers don't mean a lot right now. It's about the work you do on the race car and making sure the No. 27 GoDaddy car is going to be good not only on one lap, but over 200 (laps)."
Asked why he’d traded cars with Andretti and if he learned anything, Hinchcliffe added: "I get to see how good I look in red and blue (the colours of Marco’s car). There are some things we wanted to see and suss out, and that's the way to do it.
"It's (trading cars) not uncommon. Guys have done it in the past – especially this team. I think TK (Tony Kanaan) drove every single car on the team at some point during the month (when he was an Andretti driver). It's standard procedure to feel a couple of things out."
Practice will continue through Friday and then qualifying time trials will be held Saturday, with bump day (in which faster cars "bump" slower cars out of the field) scheduled for Sunday.
I said in the beginning that fast times don’t mean a lot and that’s because both engine suppliers, Chevrolet and Honda, will be fitting qualifying motors into all (or most) cars toward the end of the week and a horsepower boost will be allowed for time trials.
Horsepower will be dialed back, however, for the race itself.
Social note: Dario Franchitti, who’s won the Indy 500 three times and is the defending champion, will turn 40 on Sunday.
- NORRIS McDONALD