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Hinchcliffe still emphatic: ‘Fastest 33 should start Indy 500’

Written by Norris McDonald

Unless you have been living under a rock, or taken a vacation on Mars, you will know that Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe – who won last Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway and who will be riding into battle again this weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto – failed to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500, the world’s most famous and important race.

It was a shock for everybody involved, particularly his sponsors, who pony up millions of dollars to support his efforts.

Traditionally – there have been exceptions, but not many in the 102-race history of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing –  the fastest 33 cars qualify through time trials for a spot in the starting field.

Thirty-three cars in 11 rows of three start the race. It’s what makes Indy unique.

This year, 35 cars made attempts and what was particularly galling about Hinchcliffe’s failure was that he drives for a team that enters all the races in the IndyCar Series, including the Honda Indy, and a half-dozen drivers who qualified successfully only race at Indianapolis.

They are one-offs, who buy a ride (or rent a seat, whatever) for this one race.

There was talk afterward about “reserving” a place in the race for “full-timers” but that’s all there’s been to date: talk.

So now that the 2018 Indy 500 is in his rear-view mirror, how does Hinchcliffe feel about things now?

“It (falling short and having to sit out the biggest race of the year) was a gut punch like no other,” he said one morning at breakfast. “But we are a very close-knit team and we’re equipped to handle that sort of thing. When the checkered flag fell at Indy, we were already planning for Detroit and Texas (the following two races).”

McDonald: Should guys like you have a place in the race reserved?

Hinchcliffe: I’m  50-50. I’m torn. I understand the commercial aspect of guaranteeing a spot in the race, On the other hand, it should be the best 33 cars in the race. There’s the traditionalist in me as well. I’m glad its not my decision to make.

McDonald: Maybe they were faster at that particular moment in time but you know and I know that the best 33 cars were not in that race. Shouldn’t that be taken into consideration?

Hinchcliffe: I agree. But the rules are the rules and we didn’t do the job.

McDonald: Come on, James . . .

Hinchcliffe: Look, I don’t think it was the race’s fault or the series’ fault. At the end of the day, it was our fault. We didn’t do it so maybe we shouldn’t get to race. I realize there are far-reaching commercial implications that are beyond me, but as I said, the thing I enjoy the most is that it is not my decision to make and either way it goes, I will understand. I’m not staunchly in one corner or the other.

McDonald: You just gave me a great explanation of being on the fence. I’m pushing you off it. Which is it. You make the call.

Hinchcliffe: Okay, Rahal survived it when he missed the race, Penske survived it when Team Penske missed the race. You want an answer? I’ll give you an answer: the fastest 33 cars should start the Indianapolis 500.

McDonald: Thank you. You want some eggs?

Hinchcliffe: You’re welcome. Lox and bagel, please.