ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – It might’ve been the shortest phone conversation James Hinchcliffe has had in his lifetime.
Are you available? Yes. Do you want to race this weekend? Yes.
Hinchcliffe is taking advantage of an off weekend with the Verizon IndyCar Series, which will be at The Milwaukee Mile next weekend, to race with the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in a prototype this weekend at Road America.
The series was created when the NASCAR’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series merged with the American Le Mans Series following the 2013 season.
The points leaders are Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi (Prototype), Jon Bennett and Colin Braun (Prototype Challenge), Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia (GT Le Mans), and Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell (GT Daytona).
“I’m one of those guys that thinks he was born in the wrong era,” Hinchcliffe said. “I wish I lived in a time where it was easy to get between series’ every week, be in a different car.”
It is the first time Hinchcliffe, the always upbeat and joking Canadian driver, has been at Road America since 2007, doing so in a Formula BMW.
“I love this track,” Hinchcliffe said. “This is my favorite track in the country.
“It was a very short conversation when I got the call.”
It was also a deal that was put together close to the last minute. It was 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“It was short, but it was pretty straightforward,” Hinchcliffe said of how the deal came about.
“They gave me a call to see if I was, A, free and, B, be interested and those were both two quick yeses and here we are.”
Road America has personal significance to Hinchcliffe.
In 2004, Hinchcliffe picked up his first professional racing victory, racing a Formula BMW, the first of three in a row in the series. The next year, he won a Star Mazda Series event.
“It’s got that old-school charm,” Hinchcliffe said about Road America. “It’s still a little hairy in some places. It hasn’t been too sanitized. Not that I’m against improving track safety or anything, but I think you should still have gravel traps, you should pay for mistakes on the track.
“All these asphalt run-offs everywhere is kind of lame.”
In 2004, the victory was a breakthrough for him after being so close in a handful of races before Road America.
“It was a doubleheader weekend,” Hinchcliffe recalled. “In the first race, I pitched it off in Canada Corner, ironically enough. It was one of those seasons where I finished second I think four times and we were kind of getting close to the end of the year and I was getting frustrated we didn’t have a win.
“To go from the gravel trap to victory lane was a nice feeling. It set off a string of three straight wins.”
Hinchcliffe is not alone from the IndyCar Series at Road America racing with the sports car series that is on hand with four other series – Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, Cooper Tires Prototype Lites powered by Mazda and Mazda MX-5 Cup.
Rookie Jack Hawksworth is also at Road America, racing a Prototype Challenge entry, with TUDOR.
Other drivers with IndyCar ties at Road America this weekend include Katherine Legge, Scott Sharp, Christian Fittipaldi, Scott Pruett, Bruno Junquiera and Townsend Bell. Even some drivers with stock car ties are at Road America, including Colin Braun and Andy Lally.
Lally finished seventh in the NASCAR Nationwide Series event June 21 at Road America.
“The racing here is always phenomenal,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s one of those old, classic race tracks. We don’t have many of those left. This one has definitely got a special place to me.”
Hinchcliffe was hand-picked by car owner Peter Baron to race the car, along with Franklin, Wis., native Scott Mayer.