By: Tanner Watkins
October 14, 2019 | 2:00 PM
After battling the historic Mount Panorama circuit on Australia’s southeast side, NTT IndyCar Series drivers James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi earned a slice of respect following Sunday’s Bathurst 1000.
Earning their way into the race as a “wildcard” entry, the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Holden Commodore piloted by Hinchcliffe and Rossi faced its fair share of adversity throughout the weekend before finishing 19th in the 26-car field.
Practice sessions saw both drivers pushing the envelope on the 23-turn circuit, with Rossi taking a trip off-track near Turn 1. In qualifications, Rossi placed the car 25th on the grid – starting in the final row. The race started slowly with an early incident on the formation lap before Hinchcliffe took the No. 27 for the first 22 laps.
Rossi commanded the car for the next two stints, logging 45 laps and running as high as 12th at one point – while also completing the mandatory brake pad and brake rotor changes, a unique part of “The Great Race.”
After Rossi relinquished the car on Lap 68, Hinchcliffe pulled out a double-stint of his own before Rossi triple-stinted to complete the final 59 laps of the race. The California native ripped off the team’s fastest lap of the race on Lap 133 before eventually coming home 19th.
And while the result wasn’t exactly what they wanted, the two IndyCar stars shared a mutual appreciation of Australia’s 1000-kilometer race and the challenge of Mount Panorama.
“We knew this would be a big challenge. We didn’t come into this with an arrogance that it would be easy,” said Rossi post-race. “By the same token, we didn’t really come here to finish 19th either so we are a bit bummed about that. Nonetheless, we finished and we finished ahead of where we started so that’s a positive. I think that’s all we can ask for considering where we started the weekend.
“I think we both got very comfortable with the car throughout the race, and we consistently gained time through each session. The gap between us and the front I think has a lot to do with seat time and overall familiarity with the cars. But, thanks to the 27 crew for hanging in there and to the whole Walkinshaw Andretti United team for the support.”
Hinchcliffe echoed similar sentiments, noting the challenge (in particular) of the first stint of the race.
“First ‘1000’ in the books – it was quite an experience all around. We had an okay start, but the first stint was honestly a real handful,” added the Toronto native. “The track conditions were quite a bit different than what we had pretty much all through practice with it being really cold and overcast and/or wet. So with the tack heating up, the balance wasn’t quite there.
“I was working a lot with the tools in the car, so struggled a little bit in that first stint to get things on the right track. Alex jumped in after that and we started to make some progress on the balance. Track grip started to come up with the rubber going down and he had a couple really good stints. I jumped back in and had a couple good stints.”
Making note of the strict blue flag rules that require lapped cars to move over for the leaders, Hinchcliffe felt that the team faced an uphill challenge all day after falling a lap down.
“One of the big challenges at that point though is once you’re a lap down, with the blue-flag rules here you loose so much lap time just trying to let the leaders go by. It’s an unfortunate reality, but if you don’t want to do it, don’t go a lap down,” explained Hinchcliffe.
“We tried to run our race and make as few mistakes as possible. We made a couple little ones, I think that’s to be expected. A lot of more experienced guys made even bigger mistakes than we did, so I think there’s a lot to be proud of from the whole team. It was a great opportunity. I can’t thank NAPA AUTO PARTS Australia and everybody at Walkinshaw Andretti United enough for the chance to come out here and check off a bucket list race.”
After the dust had settled, Hinchcliffe and Rossi finished just two laps off the pace of the leaders – and were ahead of five teams who failed to finish the race due to accidents. They advanced six spots from their starting position on the grid.
It is encouraging to see drivers continue to take shots at racing in different disciplines, continuing the trend of one-off drives by other prominent drivers in prestigious events recently. The hope is that this continues to soften the specialized and regimented driving habits that drivers have developed over the last 30 years so that race fans can enjoy the world’s best racers in multiple forms of motorsport – as it used to be.
Header image by Supercars.