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IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe stands on the track at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ont. on Tuesday, July 15, 2014. (Katherine Scarrow/The Globe and Mail)
IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe stands on the track at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ont. on Tuesday, July 15, 2014. (Katherine Scarrow/The Globe and Mail)

Motorsports

Seven Questions: James Hinchcliffe explains how he gets ready to race Add to ...

James Hinchcliffe, aka the Mayor of @Hinchtown, currently drives the #27 Andretti Autosport GoDaddy IndyCar. The 27-year-old from Oakville, Ont., was on hand at Honda Canada’s #TameTheTrack event, in which members of the public were invited to drive Formula F cars, go-karts and the Civic Coupe Si at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ont.

Do you have a special ritual before a race? Rabbits feet? Troll dolls? Lucky socks?

Not really. I am kind of superstitious about not being superstitious, because you can mess with yourself pretty easily. A lot of guys have to put on the right glove first or get in from the left side of the car or wear their special underwear, and if for whatever reason you don’t get to do that, you’re already in a bad mindset before the race even starts. What I like to do is have a nap before a race. About an hour or so before the race, I’ll lie down for 15 to 20 minutes and close my eyes, and it lets me clear my mind. When I wake up, I can focus on the race.

Apart from being an award-winning driver, you’re a bit of Twitter hero, with more than 51,000 followers. How important is social media to your brand?

It was definitely something that was tied to branding and marketing, which is a huge part of being a racing driving. Drivers are in a unique position, because when you watch other sports, like basketball for example, you can see the player. You get a sense of their character, who they are through body language, interaction with teammates or opponents. But when you watch a race on television, you see a car and a helmet. And maybe, if the driver wins the race, you get a 30-second interview where all you do is talk about the race. Fans don’t really connect with the drivers, they connect with the cars, the colours and the brands. So social media for us is a huge tool to really make that interaction with fans, and get people emotionally attached to who were are as people and not just who were are as drivers.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

Sadly because of social media people know pretty much everything about me now! I don’t know, I’m a pretty simple guy. I have a pretty cool job and lead a pretty cool life, I like the simple things. I don’t have too many secrets.

When you’re not driving for Andretti Autosport on the track, what’s your ride around town?

An Acura MDX. I’ve got a pretty strict policy on not spending stupid amounts of money on supercars that are most likely going to get me thrown in jail.

If you weren’t racing cars professionally, what would you be doing?

Wishing I was racing cars! This sport was a passion of mine long before I got behind the wheel. I’d be involved on the team level, maybe. I’ve had some cool opportunities to do some commenting, so maybe on the TV side of things. But I’d definitely be in racing.

IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe seated in a Civic Coupe Si on the track at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ont. on Tuesday, July 15, 2014.
 

As a driver, how important are diet and exercise? Aren't you just kind of sitting there?

We go through an incredibly rigorous training regiment. In a race car, your heart rate is going anywhere from 160-180 beats per minute for 2 to 4 hours straight. It’s not like hockey where it’s really intense for a two-minute shift and you sit for five minutes. We’re literally on for that entire time. So you need the cardiovascular system of a marathon runner.

Our cars generate a ton of down-force and don’t have power steering, so the wheel gets incredibly heavy in the corners and you’re experiencing tons of Gs – neck muscles, core muscles, leg muscles, etc. You’ve got to put over 2,000 pounds of pressure to the brake system with your left leg, so not only is it intense cardio, but it’s very muscular as well. A lot of strength training, a lot of reaction training. We’re in the gym probably six days a week when we’re not on the road.

What’s the most challenging part of being a race car driver?

I’d say the most challenging thing is accepting that racing really is a business before it’s a sport and as drivers, we’re so reliant on sponsorship. You get into this business because you like driving race cars, and you realize quickly that you spend most of your time in board rooms and gyms and doing everything but driving a race car for the 10 per cent of your life you actually get to drive the car. That was one of the hardest things to come to terms with.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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