Hinchcliffe still fifth in points

BY foxsports • July 20, 2012

James Hinchcliffe vowed Thursday not to let his current engine situation affect his approach to the final stretch of the IndyCar schedule.

Hinchcliffe had two engines fail at Toronto two weeks ago, and goes into this weekend's event at Edmonton on his final approved engine of the season. Any engine change over the final five races will earn a 10-spot penalty on the starting grid.

He can't afford any hiccups going forward if he's going to be a threat for the IndyCar championship. But he said his engine situation is not dictating race strategy, and his Andretti Autosport team is still trying to salvage one of the engines that blew at Toronto.

''When we establish whether or not this engine from Toronto is salvageable, then that might have an effect going forward for future races,'' said Hinchcliffe, ''but for right now, we're on full attack mode.''

It's his only shot if he's going to get back into the title race, which is controlled by teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. Three wins in the past three races puts Hunter-Reay atop the point standings headed into Sunday's street race in Edmonton.

Just one month ago, Hinchcliffe was second in the standings and challenging for the championship in his second season in the series. He's picked up a huge following as Danica Patrick's replacement at Andretti, and his fans were eager to see a strong showing at his home race in Toronto.

Instead, it was yet another setback for Hinchcliffe, who has been on the skids since crashing at Iowa. Still, with two engines on reserve, he felt good about where he stood.

That all came apart in Toronto.

The engine he started with at Toronto struggled in practice, forcing his engineers to make a swap. Under IndyCar's rules this season - the first in seven years with multiple engine manufacturers - engines can't be swapped out without penalty until after 1,850 miles. Since his Chevrolet had not reached that limit, Hinchcliffe picked up a 10-spot grid penalty and started 19th.

That engine began to sputter early in the race, and Hinchcliffe retired early. He was credited with a 22nd-place finish and is now fifth in the standings.

''It all deteriorated very quickly,'' Hinchcliffe said. ''There's no way we could have finished that race in Toronto. It was losing power. It was getting progressively worse.''

But he's hopeful it can be saved.

''It's a brand-new motor. We only had 100 miles on it,'' he said.

Will Power, who lost the points lead to Hunter-Reay after Toronto, said he's curious to see how the engine situation dictates the championship race. Power believes penalties incurred because of engine changes will be costly on the road courses at Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, and Baltimore, but won't matter at the 500-mile finale on the oval at California.

Power said a 10-spot grid penalty can be made up on wider courses such as Edmonton - with its long straightaways and tight braking zones - and at Fontana, but not so easily on the tighter road courses.

''If you get engine penalties at Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, or Baltimore, a 10-grid spot penalty there is way harsher,'' Power said. ''All those strategies will play in. You get a 10-spot grid penalty at the wrong track and you're in trouble.''

Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, is in good shape with two spare engines.

Power and Helio Castroneves, who is third in points, each have one engine to spare.

Hinchcliffe said while the engine problems can be frustrating, it's good for the series.

''Everybody has had to serve a (grid) penalty at some point or another throughout the season, but the racing's been great and the competition between manufacturers is fantastic,'' he said. ''It's just an occupational hazard.''

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