Q and A with James Hinchcliffe and Zach Veach
Zach will move up to Firestone Indy Lights in 2013 with Andretti Autosport, and driver of the No. 12 K12 for the team. It will be Zach's fourth season as a development driver for Andretti Autosport, as he previously competed with the team in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the Star Mazda Championship. Zach, welcome to today's call.
ZACH VEACH: Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
Q. Let's talk about climbing the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. You started in 2010 in the USF2000. You won the Winter Series there in 2011 and last year competed in Star Mazda. So now this year you're ready to move up to Firestone Indy Lights. What will it mean to you to be the first driver to actually graduate from Lights to IndyCar and compete in the full ladder?
ZACH VEACH: It will be a really special achievement for us. I'm really proud to be part of the Mazda Road to Indy program, and being able to be starting my fourth season with Andretti Motorsport. It has been a real honor to be under their wings and developing as a driver now that's turned 18 and going to be in the Firestone Indy Lights Series.
But I've learned so much from the time I started in 2010 with USF2000 and worked my way up until now, that there's no way I'd be able to drive a Firestone Indy Lights car at 18 if it wasn't for the Mazda Road to Indy series.
So it's a very unique experience, and it's helping a lot of drivers like me and all across the world and country to achieve the dreams of competing in the Indianapolis 500 up with day.
Q. You said you just turned 18. It happened right before the New Year, so it's kind of been a rapid rise up the development ladder for you. Do you plan on a couple of years in the Firestone Indy Lights or do you think you're ready to be an IndyCar driver?
ZACH VEACH: For me, I really want to be in IndyCar, but Michael (Andretti's) goal is he never wants to move any of his drivers up too fast. So I think it's best for me and Michael thinks as well that we take our time working our way up to the (IZOD) IndyCar (Series). So, yeah, probably two years at least in the Firestone Indy Lights series and just taking our time learning as much as we need to be able to move up to the IndyCar Series.
So definitely dreaming big, but I'm just focused on this year right now, and we're going to go for hopefully the championship and see where we are at the end of the year.
Q. You mentioned that you've had about 10 test days in the Firestone Indy Lights cars to prepare yourself for the season. A couple more test days before the season starts at St. Pete. What is your feel for the car and how you've done in comparison to your teammate Carlos (Munoz) who ran well in the championship last year? Does that set high expectations for you for the season?
ZACH VEACH: Yes, I'm very fortunate to have such a strong teammate this year like Carlos. Like you said, he was very successful last year, and he's really putting a lot of pressure on me this year and definitely making me drive a lot harder. Throughout testing here the past couple of times, we've been in tenth or hundredths of Carlos. So I have a feeling that we'll be really prepared as we go into the season, and I'll be pushing really hard to get K12 some wins this year.
Now we've just got to take it one race at a time and make sure that we're learning and improving on the areas that we need to. I'm very confident in my team and my engineer, and I think that we really have a great program at Andretti Autosport for the season.
THE MODERATOR: Zach mentioned his goal is to race in the IZOD IndyCar Series. And that's where our second guest today races. James Hinchcliffe joins the call. James will drive the No. 27 GoDaddy Chevrolet and is entering his third season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. He finished 8th last year in the point standings, his first season with Andretti Autosport, and returned to the same team for the first time in his career.
Q. James, can you talk about what a comfort it is for a driver to return to a team for the 2013 season?
We had a strong first year with Andretti Autosport in 2012 in the GoDaddy car. And for me now it's important to build on that and try to improve on the areas where we were a little weak last year, and even on the areas we felt were strong, this is a competitive series and there is always room for improvement. And we're looking forward to just getting 2013 underway.
Q. You mentioned continuity. You're actually going to be reunited with Craig Hampson this year who engineered you when you won the Rookie of the Year in 2011. Does working with Craig add to the comfort you have with the team?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Certainly. The blow we were dealt in January with my engineer, Tino (Belli), from last season leaving that late in the offseason, it makes it very difficult. And I guess when a door closes, a window opens. And we were so fortunate that Craig Hampson was available and sort of a weird twist of events, and everything happens for a reason, you know?
So, for me, the driver‑engineer relationship is so, so critical, and for me to come with a different engineer from last year but at least one I've worked with in the past is such a big step forward.
I think Craig is a tremendous engineer and will be a huge asset to the whole team. But, certainly, everybody on the 27 car is very excited about the opportunity to work with him. I'm over the moon about the opportunity to work with him again. So hopefully we can replicate and better some of the success we had two years ago.
Q. You had a test day last week at Sebring, and I know there is the open two‑day test at Barber in a couple of weeks. But it is some limited testing compared to last year in the preseason. Does last week's testing leave you itching to get back in the car and get the season started?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think the checkered flag in Fontana left me itching to get the 2013 started. And we know it's been a long off‑season, and with the limited testing compared to last year, all of these things made it probably the longest off‑season of my life.
But on the other hand, like I said, it's good to know at the end of last season what I'd be doing this year. And we've been filling some of the time with other things, racing the Rolex 24. I've gotten back to my roots a little bit and doing some go‑karting in the off‑season to stay sharp. But I've been keeping my butt in the seat at the end of the day.
The test last week went really well, and I think everybody's anxious to get this year going.
Q. You mentioned some of your time in the off‑season. I know some of the stuff that you've done in‑season includes some TV, and I saw SPEED announced today that you'll be an analyst for SPEED Center and Wind Tunnel. I know you're not ready to retire to the booth yet, but you seem to have carved out a little niche in TV of late.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, it's been a fun journey. I've had some really cool opportunities on the television side of the board. It's an honor and a privilege that SPEED asked me to come on board a little bit more for this season. We had a really fun time last year with Dave Despain on Wind Tunnel, and it was after that appearance that led to us talking about making it more of a permanent fixture. And I'm happy that we managed to make that happen.
So we can have some fun with it, and hope everybody tunes in to see what we do.
Q. Zach, it kind of goes without saying, it's obvious, but I'd like you to talk a little bit about the ability to call on such a high amount of racing experience in Andretti Autosport? I mean, the name at the front of it, there is a lot of experience there down through the IndyCar side with Hinch and Marco (Andretti) and everybody. Just talk a little bit about the fact that you're developing with a team that has a tremendous amount of experience that can help to guide you?
ZACH VEACH: First off, thanks for your question. Yeah, like you were saying, really being with Andretti Autosports is one of the most valuable things that a driver can have, especially a young one like me, being able to start my full season with them. Even from the very beginning when I was 16, coming with them, I didn't have a lot of experience. So having Michael and Ryan Hunter‑Reay and Marco and now Hinch a part of the team.
It's such a great honor to be able to be under the same roof as them as well as going to them when I have some troubles and I need some advice on the track.
Another nice thing to know about it is they've raced in the series that I've raced in or that I am racing in. So it is very nice to go to them, because I've found myself going through some of the same problems that they found themselves in a few years ago. So it's very helpful for me and a lot of fun working with them as well.
Q. Have you had a chance to think about how you're going to get around these doubleheaders? Detroit, Houston and Toronto, two races on one weekend. Everybody we've talked to says we have to do it, but they're still not sure how to do it. What about you?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I don't think anybody's going to have their head around it until the end of the season, if I'm honest. It's such a weird format for us. Qualifying strategies will be completely different, obviously race approaches will be a little bit different, and there's just going to be so much going on.
Ultimately there are a lot of things that I thought were going to be really good for our sport and ended up being terrible and a lot of things that I thought were going to be terrible ended up being really good.
So I'm going to wait and reserve all judgment until we actually get through one, see how it plays out, and kind of go from there.
Q. One of the goals this year for you talking to everybody is that first win. Hinch, you're pretty good at disciplining yourself not to let things play on your mind. But does that play on your mind? Let's get that first win or do you go about it methodically event to event knowing you have the resources there when it happens?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: That is the biggest thing. We know we're a team that's capable of winning and especially now bringing that experience of Craig on board. The working relationship that we already have. We know each other, and we're going to put our heads down and get to work.
With how hard that guy works, he's motivating me and the team to work harder than we did last year, which is saying something. I think if we do our jobs right, eventually it's going to fall our way one day.
So we're not worried on it must be done by this race or this day or anything like that, but if we do our jobs right, then hopefully that day is going to come.
Q. James, you were second in points at the halfway point of the championship, and over the second half of the season you started to fade a little bit. Now some of that wasn't your fault, but looking back on that stretch, was it simple enough to say that you need to stay out of trouble to keep that from happening again, or is there something else that you need to do?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think it's easy to say you were a victim of circumstance, and that is the easy way out. At the end of the day, I believe that you make your own luck in a way, and we had some bad luck and there has to be a reason for that. Some things are a hundred percent out of our control, like what happened in Detroit. But there are other things that we put ourselves to be in. Like being caught up in someone else's mess. Or just strategically or like me making mistakes like in Iowa.
But certainly you're looking at the first half of the season in comparison to the second half, and the results flat out weren't there.
And we've spent a lot of time, trust me, in the off‑season looking at that and going over it event by event. And we've certainly found some weaknesses and some places that we can improve.
Yeah, luck is part of it, but like I said, you have to work hard to get good luck. And that will be our approach to this year and hopefully the rest falls into play.
Q. Bringing in a fourth driver, (Indiscernible) how has E.J. Viso done acclimating to the team, and what do you think he'll bring to the table for you guys?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Well, certainly we haven't had a lot of time with E.J. yet. He only joined the team recently, but we had the test in Sebring together which was the first time we were all together. More than anything, it was a bit of a get to know you. Get E.J. familiar with the way we operate Andretti Autosport, and I think that he was really surprised and impressed with just how open the team was, the sort of correspondence between the drivers not only at the track, but in the tests the days afterwards and things like that.
So it's good. He comes with a lot of experience. He's done a bunch of years in IndyCar now. He's had experience over in Europe. We know he did a quick oval lap, so I think that with him and especially Michael Cannon, the engineer that comes to work with E.J., they've worked together before, and Michael's an extremely and experienced successful engineer.
So all around, it's got the potential to be a huge boost for the team.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the partnership with GoDaddy? It seemed to be such a good fit. Can you give us a preview of what they have coming for you this season?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I've said it before and I'll say it again because it still holds true, it's one of the coolest companies I've had the privilege of working with. They really get it. They really get business. They get sport. They get marketing. But they are just a great group of people.
We've had a lot of fun in the last 12 months doing some of the things that we did and the trouble we got ourselves into. And GoDaddy being GoDaddy, there is going to be some stuff in the works this year.
Can't give away too much, but we've got some more fun things planned, a lot of it based around the internet and social media, and there is a big push in Canada this year as well. So you'll definitely be seeing a lot of greetings throughout the season.
Q. You kind of share the GoDaddy sponsorship with a driver who races in another series who had a good week last week. Do you feel any added pressure to perform after Danica did such a fine performance at Daytona?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, kind of hard not to. I thought starting second at the Indy 500 was a big deal, but she's kind of outdone me. So I guess we'll have to do one better this year in May. It's great. She hit the ground running this season in Cup, and she had a great race in the 500 to finish where she did.
It's exciting. It's cool to still be part of the family and have that partnership here as well.
Like I said, with the attention that she brings and the success that she's having early, I think it adds a little bit of pressure to hold up my end of the bargain inside the GoDaddy family.
Q. Being part of the GoDaddy family, you posted some pictures from the GoDaddy Christmas party, including with PSY, the media member who sent me this wanted me to ask you about PSY and Gangnam Style. Did you actually show him your version?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: If I'm honest, I went as PSY for Halloween, and that picture has strategically never made it online. So it was cool to get that picture taken. But if I'm absolutely honest with you, that was actually a PSY impersonator. Not many people could tell the difference because he was that good.
But me and him definitely did the little dance inside the VIP area of the party. I got the proper lesson from a true professional, so it was a good education.
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