With his giant post-race party already planned, Toronto racer James Hinchcliffe would like nothing better than to spend a raucous Sunday night basking in the glory of a win at home.
"I'd certainly rather be there celebrating a win than commiserating about a loss that's for sure," said Hinchcliffe, who will be on track today in a practice session for Sunday's Indy Lights race on the 2.84-kilometre 11-turn temporary street course at Exhibition Place. "It's been a hit for the past couple of years."
The driver's website, Hinchtown, is hosting the third annual Indy "After Race" party at the Maro Supper Club, which might be the best opportunity for fans to rub shoulders with IndyCar and Indy Lights racers. Tickets will be available at the door at 9 p.m. for $5.
23-year-old Hinchcliffe has been doing a bit of rocking and rolling on track too, after leaving the powerhouse Sam Schmidt team last year to join the less successful Moore Racing. Prior to his arrival, the Moore team had never challenged for the Indy Lights championship but the addition of the young Canadian immediately pulled the outfit forward.
"For sure it was a big risk leaving a multiple-championship-winning effort like Schmidt, for a smaller team with a little less credentials," he said. "But we knew Team Moore had some really good people and I spent the off-season with [owner]Mark Moore thinking about who the best people would be to put together for the crew on the No. 2 car to give us the best shot at doing well."
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So far things have gone well for the sophomore Indy lights driver who spent his rookie year learning the ropes in his new series, especially getting accustomed to the ovals on the calendar. He's proved a good student and lies second in the points standings at the halfway mark of the 13-race season, 35 behind leader J.K. Vernay. Drivers get 50 points for a win.
"I think our oval performances are not even indicative yet of what we are capable of doing," he said. "I certainly expect us to be fighting for wins on the 1.5 mile tracks when we get to them at the end of the year."
Hinchcliffe would also like a win this weekend on the Exhibition Place circuit to help forget the disappointment of the last race in Watkins Glen, N.Y. The Canadian saw a victory slip from his grasp when he slid on some "oil dry" put down to clean the track after another driver's engine blew, allowing Vernay to pass and take the win.
It was a bitter pill for Hinchcliffe who dominated the entire weekend and looked a lock to score his second win of 2010 from pole until the pesky kitty litter-like mixture ruined his race. He finished second after nipping at Vernay's heels all the way to the chequered flag.
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"The safety workers put down only what I can describe as a gargantuan amount of oil dry right on the racing line," he said.
"It was a heartbreak, but at the same time J.K. won that race because he was lucky and sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. But if you look over the whole weekend, we were really, really good and, over the long run, I'd rather be good than lucky once and a while."
Getting back in the winner's circle at home would go a long way toward closing the gap to Vernay, as the second half of the season begins and Hinchcliffe prepares to make a run at the Indy Lights championship.
To do it, he will have to work hard not to be distracted by the added appearances at press conferences, events and parties that go along with a home race.
"The big thing about racing at home is when you are out of the car. The atmosphere, the vibe you get from the fans and obviously if you have a good result, it's going to mean much more," he said.
"I put so much pressure on myself and my team just being the competitive personality that I am that when I the helmet is on and the visor is down, I could be racing in Toronto or Timbuktu. It doesn't really matter because the pressure is the same and my effort's going to be the same."
While it's too soon to start talking about 2011, Hinchcliffe hopes to ride his success this season leads to a ride in the top tier IndyCar Series where he can try his luck against the likes of Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti, and Scott Dixon.
The main challenge for young drivers such as Hinchcliffe is finding flush backers to fund his move into the big series. And with known quantities like Tracy struggling to find companies interested in pouring cash into racing sponsorships, young upstarts have a tough road ahead.
"You always got to have hope that there are going to be some sponsors out there for you, especially some in Canada would be fantastic," he said.
"I hope that the two races we have in Canada will help. It just takes the right people to come together."
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