James Hinchcliffe on His First Indy 500 Pole

“If starting up front in the biggest race in history is your thing, I guess it’s pretty cool.”
Just a year after a crash that nearly killed him, driver James Hinchcliffe secured the pole position for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. He has no memory of the accident—the last thing he recalls is practicing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But returning hasn’t been as difficult for him as as it might have been.

“I’ve tried very hard to not associate anything I went through subsequently—any of the pain or the rehab or anything like that—with the track,” Hinchcliffe said at a recent IMS press conference. “To me, it’s two very different things. So there were no issues coming back here at all.”

Hinchcliffe says his entire team suffered with him. That only made last Sunday more emotional for everyone involved when Hinchcliffe took the pole. Now, though, it’s back to business: “Ten miles in qualifying is one thing,” he said. “And 500 miles with 32 other guys is a totally different deal. We have to let our minds get back to work and kind of refocus.”

Plus, starting first will give Hinchcliffe a bit of added responsibility compared to the other drivers, he said.

Besides getting the grid lined up well, looking the part, and setting the pace as the cars head toward the green, Hinchcliffe has a feeling he will not be leading for long: By way of example, he recalled 2012, when he started second at Indy then overtook the leader before lap two.

But this race isn’t about lap one, said Hinchcliffe. It’s about lap 200. He has time to get where he wants to be.

Hinchcliffe is living at the IMS this month and doing his best to treat the historic race like any other. He drives better when he’s calm and relaxed. While some drivers put in headphones and get themselves pumped up before a race, Hinchcliffe likes to crack jokes with his team until they put him into the car.

“For me, racing is a very natural thing,” he said. “I’ll try to wake up like it’s any race morning and try to stay light and loose and not let the weight of this place and the gravity of this race really get to me.”

Overthinking, Hinchcliffe said, is sometimes the most dangerous thing a driver can do before a race.