Why James Hinchcliffe Refuses to Use the Word ‘Retired’
Last season, James Hinchcliffe joined the NBC Sports IndyCar broadcast crew as an analyst, along with play-by-play host Leigh Diffey and fellow analyst Townsend Bell.
It was 10 years ago at St. Petersburg in 2013 that the so-called Mayor of Hinchtown was the toast of the town when he won the first of what would be six career victories in his IndyCar career.
Hinchcliffe hasn’t given up on his goal of getting back into an Indy car at some point.
This weekend’s IndyCar season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla., is about as meaningful to James Hinchcliffe as any of the Indianapolis 500s he competed in.
It was 10 years ago at St. Pete in 2013 that the so-called Mayor of Hinchtown was the toast of the town when he won the first of what would be six career victories in his IndyCar career, including two additional triumphs later in the same season.
More recently, St. Pete was also the venue where Hinchcliffe kicked off a new career of sorts at the start of last season, when he joined the NBC Sports IndyCar broadcast crew as an analyst, along with play-by-play host Leigh Diffey and fellow analyst Townsend Bell.
“It's always so nice to go back to St. Pete,” Hinchcliffe told Autoweek. “I think every driver, every team member, loves starting the season there. The city gets behind it in such a good way, the event is always so vibrant, the track’s a lot of fun and I definitely have some great memories there.”
He then added with a whimsical chuckle, “That first win was something I'll never forget, although I recently was reminded it was 10 years ago, which is a little depressing. But yeah, it’s a very special memory. And heading there this year, again, it's the same feeling that I got when I was a driver. It's that sort of first day of school, that excitement of getting the season going. It's the same for everyone. It really permeates the whole paddock, no matter what your job is, if you're working at the track, you're really excited to get back to St. Pete.”
While he’s enjoying his time with NBC, Hinchcliffe admits that a part of him that still misses being behind the wheel.
“It's funny, there are certain times throughout the year that I miss it more than others, and there's no doubt that the St. Pete race is one of those times,” Hinchcliffe said. “That's one of the few moments of the year.
“But for the most part, no, I'm very happy. I've got a great program with NBC and really excited about going into my second year and pull the rookie stripe off. I’m an established part of the team now. I'm excited to get back to the booth and work with the whole team there. They were so good last year to work with and we're excited for another exciting season of IndyCar racing.”
Even though he hasn’t been in an Indy car since the final race of the 2021 season, Hinchcliffe is enjoying his new role in front of the cameras, but at the same time is not ready to say he’s officially retired from the sport as a driver.
“No, no, I'm not using it (the word ‘retire’) yet,” he said with a laugh. “There's still some potential opportunities to drive something. I've said all along that full-time IndyCar is no longer the goal. I've done my time in that sense, but if the right opportunity came up for the 500, I'd still entertain that certainly. And there's still some opportunities in sports cars that creep up in conversation from time to time. So who knows? But yeah, I would definitely not use that word yet.
“I saw a funny exchange on Twitter recently where somebody referred to Max Papis as retired. And he jumped right in on that and said that he is not, he’s still available for anybody that wants to throw him in a race car. And, you know, I think he's in his early 50s now, so I’ve still got time (Hinchcliffe is only 36 years old).”
Hinchcliffe came close to getting a ride in last year’s Indianapolis 500, which would have given him a unique role of the first-ever analyst to broadcast live from within the cockpit of a race car during the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Unfortunately, logistics just never worked out to make that situation come to light.
And getting a ride for this year is essentially gone.
“Not for this year, no,” Hinchcliffe said. “The opportunities have sort of come and gone for ’23. I’m excited to be at the top of the Pagoda and watch the Greatest Spectacle in Racing from what I’ll call the second best seat in the house, the best one being on the track.”
While the native of suburban Toronto doesn’t have anything on his dance card yet in terms of racing this year, most notably for Indianapolis, he hasn’t given up on his goal of getting back into an Indy car at some point.
He’s also looking at potential opportunities in other series, either part-time or one-off situations, including IMSA and WEC. He’d even consider a shot at NASCAR, much like former IndyCar rival Conor Daly did in this year’s Daytona 500.
“Never say never, I would love to do it,” Hinchcliffe said. “I still have a lot of friends in the NASCAR paddock in all three series and every year there seems to be a different conversation that starts. One of these years, I promise you it’ll all come together and I’ll give it a try.”
As for the 2023 IndyCar season, Hinchcliffe envisions the campaign to be very similar to 2022, with most of the same players battling it out for the championship.
“I think you'd have to look at the top 10 from last year in points and say, alright, these are the ones we're looking at,” Hinchcliffe said. “That's what's so cool about this series. I genuinely can make the case for every one of the top 10 in points on why they will be a championship contender. You can't do that in Formula 1 or even NASCAR. There’s so many different options that it’s impossible to predict. I’m glad I’m not a betting man because I wouldn’t know where to put my money down on.”