Part-timer James Hinchcliffe Tops First Indy 500 Practice on ‘Different’ Opening Day

From Autoweek

If Opening Day of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is any indication, it’s going to be a weird Month of May.

Check that. A rather strange 12 days in August.

Even no fans at the first day of practice made a difference to Indy 500 veterans James Hinchcliffe and 2008 winner Scott Dixon.

“It felt different,” said Hinchcliffe, who was quickest in practice on Wednesday with a quick lap of 224.526 mph. “It felt like a test day. I was having that conversation with a couple of the guys. It just kind of felt like a full on, very full on full series test day.

“Knowing that there’s way fewer people than there would normally be at this point in the week, thinking ahead to Fast Friday, qualifying weekend, Carb Day, normally you see a steady escalation of people at the track each day. Just knowing you’re not going to see that, this is the view we’re going to have until the end of the race, it’s a bit weird, a bit surreal. We certainly miss having spectators here in the stands.

Photo credit: JAMES J. BLACK

“We still get to go put on a good show for them. Hopefully everybody tunes in and watches on NBC.”

Hinchcliffe is driving the No. 29 Honda for Andretti Autosport, where one of his teammates is Dixon, who missed more than the fans on Opening Day. His favorite Taco Bell near the track was also closed down.

“Yeah, as I was told many of times after turning left (coming out of the track), I should have turned right, go to the one closer to the 465 there,” Dixon said. “I know that well and have been there many times, so I’m in good times.”

Dixon actually did find a few positives in the era of COVID-19 at IMS.

“It was very easy getting into the circuit today,” he said. “It was very easy to go to the restroom. I didn’t need to remember my Sharpie at all. There were definitely a whole lot of differences.”

Click here for complete first-day times.

Hinchcliffe is running a partial schedule this season for Andretti. The 500 will be just his third start of the season. It will also be he second start at Indianapolis, as he finished a solid 11th at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the speedway’s road course on July 4.

He’s hoping for another good day on August 23 for the 500. And he hopes the right folks are there to see it. He would like nothing better than getting some buzz going that could lead to a return to full-time status next season.

“Never hurts,” Hinchcliffe said. “A strong result in the 500 is an important thing. Being known as someone that can compete well here is going to make you an asset to a race team and sponsors as well.

“We go out and try to perform well in every race. We go out and try to benefit our team in every race. This one’s no different. We’ll take the same approach we’ve been taking. If it goes well, yeah, hopefully it plays into our favor for next year.”

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