James Hinchcliffe can't shake slump on 1st day of hometown race in Toronto

  • Article by: JENNA FRYER , AP Auto Racing Writer
  • Updated: July 12, 2013 - 2:55 PM

TORONTO — James Hinchcliffe's bid to break his most recent slump didn't get off to the greatest start in his return to hometown Toronto.

Coming off a disastrous race at Pocono Raceway, Hinchcliffe is hoping for a strong showing at Exhibition Place.

Instead, he failed to advance out of the first round of qualifying Friday for the first of two races in Toronto. He's scheduled to start 14th in Saturday's race, the first of a doubleheader weekend.

"This is certainly not the way we wanted qualifying to go," Hinchcliffe said. "I feel bad for all the fans here, you guys deserve better than that. But we'll put our heads down, it's a long race and I know we'll have a good car."

Hinchcliffe barely missed advancing into the second round, calling it "heartbreaking to miss it by so little." But he was buoyed by the layout at Toronto, which has plenty of passing places unlike many of IndyCar's street circuits.

"It's a long race and this is a track you can pass on and play strategy to your advantage," Hinchcliffe said. "Fingers crossed when it counts and the points are paying we'll be at the right end."

It was an overall off day for the four Andretti Autosport entries; especially a week after Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe swept the front row at Pocono. But at Toronto, no Andretti drivers advanced to the final Fast Six round of qualifying, marking the first time all season the team is not represented in the last group.

But the most glaring omission Friday was Hinchcliffe, who is under extreme pressure to perform in Toronto and promised during an interview aired on the PA system to "put on a better show tomorrow." It drew rousing cheers from a crowd hungry to see a Canadian win at home.

He needs it in at least one of the two races this weekend after Sunday's disaster at Pocono, where he started on the front row but crashed out of the race in the first turn of the first lap.

It's been that kind of feast or famine season for Hinchcliffe, who has three wins on the year. But through 11 races, he's either finished first or last six times.

Hinchcliffe said he's able to put on blinders once in the car to the pressures of performing at home.

"The thing is, once you are in the car, it feels like any other track," Hinchcliffe said. "You've got to just focus on the job you are doing and not let the hometown pressure get to you. It's more outside the car — the added tension."

Adding to Hinchcliffe's worries this weekend is that IndyCar will debut the use of standing starts in Saturday's race, and although Hinchcliffe is one of the few drivers with experience at the procedure, he wasn't very successful his last time doing one. In the Gold Coast 600 race through the streets of Surfers Paradise last October, Hinchcliffe was slow on the start and it caused a multi-car pileup.

Still, he figures he's in better shape than many drivers in the field.

"Some guys I don't think have ever done them in Formula cars, which is a little scary," he said. "The big concern is just that we haven't had a ton of time to practice them. We've never gone through the procedure or lining up and going through the lights as a series, so there is a serious risk of somebody getting it wrong, which will look pretty silly.

"Then of course the other issue doing a standing start on a street circuit is that if somebody does stall, there is nowhere to go. That's got big potential for issues. But that all adds to the excitement and that is why everybody should be here on Saturday to see what happens. It's either going to be really impressive seeing 25 IndyCars from a standing start rocket into turn one or it's going to be pretty spectacular what goes wrong."

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