It’s been an off-season filled with travel for James Hinchcliffe. Fresh from a career-best season that saw him take his first three IndyCar wins, the Mayor of Hinchtown headed to Europe to celebrate his brother’s birthday, and will head off on a weeklong cruise of the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 7.
In the latest addition of “Catching Up With…” the Andretti Autosport driver talks of his travels, the changes his team will have as it approaches the 2014 season, and why today may be the last time we wish him a Happy Birthday.
Q. You’ve been the bit of a world traveler since the season ended. Where exactly have you been since we last saw you at Auto Club Speedway?
James Hinchcliffe: “I always try to get one trip out of the way pretty close to the end of the season. It’s always good to unwind after what’s always a hectic, frantic year and end of the year. I went to the UK for my brother’s 30th birthday. He’s in (graduate) school over there, so my sister (Rebecca) and my girlfriend (Kirsten Dee) and I went over to surprise him.
It was a really good trip. We were there for eight or nine days and Kirsten had never seen the UK before. My dad is from England, so we got to see some family and I got to introduce (Kirsten) to my 98-year-old grandmother, which is always cool. It was a good trip, just too much eating and drinking.”
Q. And you’re headed on a cruise here shortly as well, co-hosting a SeaDream Yacht trip in Costa Rica and Nicaragua with Graham Rahal on Dec. 7-14?
James Hinchcliffe: “It’s like it is a winter of vacations for me, I guess. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never been to Costa Rica and I’ve never done a cruise before. The people at SeaDream have given us this awesome opportunity. As far as appearances go, this one probably tops it. It will be a cool experience getting to see a new country and a new culture. Hopefully we can educate some new INDYCAR fans at the same time.”
Q. You’ll be celebrating your 27th birthday on Dec. 5. What should someone get you?
James Hinchcliffe: “It’s tough to top a cruise, to be honest, so I’ll thank SeaDream for that.
I used to hear older drivers talk about this, and I never quite got it, but now I get it. I’ve decided after this birthday, I’ll turn 27 and I’ll just stop doing the birthday thing. I’ll stop there. Twenty-seven seems like a reasonable place to stop. There’s a good correlation with the car number. I think I’m going to call it quits on birthdays. No more gifts and just be 27 forever. I think that will work.
Q. Turning to the track, you’ll have a new engineer in 2014 as Nathan O’Rourke has joined the team. Your thoughts on working with a young guy like Nathan, who is new to you, but obviously has a lot of experience?
James Hinchcliffe: “I’m thinking of myself as the engineer killer, now. I chased Tino (Belli) off to Panther and I’ve made Craig (Hampson) retire twice now. There’s clearly something wrong with me, and I’m not sure Nathan knows what he’s gotten himself into.
It’s something we’re really excited about. He’s a bright, young guy and the team was very keen to try to get him to be part of our program. Once he was here, I was big on getting him on the 27 car. We’ve had a chance to get to know each other a little bit and it seems like our personalities will mesh just fine. He’s having to adjust a little bit from a one-car team to a four-car operation and how everything works, but as he said to me out there, ‘This stuff, pointing at the trailer and everything else, that, I’m struggling with, but pointing at the race car, that, I know.’ And that’s fine. That’s the important part.
We still have a couple of months for him to figure out all the procedures and bureaucratic stuff that’s involved with being part of a big team. I’m excited about it. He’s had some really good runs the last couple of years and comes with a fresh mindset. I think it will be a good match.”
Q. With all the changes to the team, the addition of Nathan, Craig moving to the R & D side, and a new sponsor for your car, the core of the team remains the same with you, Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and Marco.
James Hinchcliffe: “First off, we’re happy to have Carlos (Munoz) part of the team. He showed a lot of promise in Lights and his IndyCar (Series) races were beyond stellar for such a young kid. I think what we’re more worried about is for him to show up and beat us at all the races, like he almost did this year.
We’ve talked a lot over the last two years about the chemistry of the team and it’s not just us towing a line. If you were in the trailer and in the debrief room and behind the doors at the shop, you would see how close we are working. Last year was better than the year before, even though we weren’t able to take home a championship for the team. We won more races than we did the year before and Marco was a team leader on a lot of weekends. I think we’re working closer and working better than we ever have been. To add another year on to that, and hopefully, we can keep building and being even stronger in 2014.”Andretti Autosport, IndyCar, James Hinchcliffe