INDIANAPOLIS – A year without a full-time ride has only inspired 2016 Indianapolis 500 pole winner James Hinchcliffe.
The Andretti Autosport driver, who is competing in a limited number of races this year, was the fastest driver in Wednesday’s opening day of practice for the 104th Indianapolis 500.
Hinchcliffe’s No. 29 Genesys Honda turned a fast lap at 224.526 mph around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Teammate Marco Andretti’s Honda was second at 224.345 mph followed by five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Honda at 224.047 mph.
Wednesday’s practice session that was split into three groups, including the Rookie Orientation Program, which was a bit bittersweet for Hinchcliffe. The popular driver from Oakville, Ontario, is a mainstay in the NTT IndyCar Series, but after he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren Racing SP, it left him with limited opportunities.
He was able to return to Andretti Autosport with a partial program this year that included the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 104th Indianapolis 500.
Opening day at Indianapolis allowed Hinchcliffe a chance to race around the course that has provided him with the best of times in his career and the worst of times.
“From the team side, from my side, from Genesys side, this is the one we obviously were looking forward to the most,” Hinchcliffe said. “Not to knock Texas or the GP, but this is obviously the granddaddy.
“My experience in the past year with this team has always been fantastic. To be able to come back here again with them, kind of pick up where we left off. We started on the front row my last year here with Andretti Autosport. Hopefully we have a car we can compete in the Fast Nine this year, try to have another good one.
“It’s just always nice coming here with these guys. They do a great job, like I said, preparing these cars. Even as they said, whether it’s full-time or part-time cars, it never seems to affect the performance. We’ve seen the Bonus Jonas as I like to call the sixth car here at Andretti Autosport. We’ve seen Conor run well in it. We’ve seen this car be very competitive. It’s nice to see that once again they’re not cutting any corners on that extra ride.
“Like I said, hopefully we can go ahead with another cool chapter of our 500 history here.”
Hinchcliffe was one of three Andretti Autosport cars in the top four. Each of the top four drivers were powered by Honda engines.
“Luckily, not a ton of surprises,” Hinchcliffe said. “A couple of new elements, one being the Aeroscreen, but everybody at Andretti Autosport has worked their tails off to prepare for this race. And to have six cars prepared at the level that they do is incredibly impressive, with three of them in the top five after the first day of practice.
“It’s just practice; there’s obviously a long way to go. But whenever you can kick off the month strong and know you’ve got a decent package, you can kind of work on it from there. It makes your sleep a little better now and between the race.”
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