James Hinchcliffe hits the north

Canadian IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe got behind the wheel of a very different kind of vehicle last Thursday morning.

The 27-year-old driver, who now operates under the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports banner, was in Fort St. John at oculus transport shooting some promotional material for his new team and got test drive one of the company’s 18 wheelers.

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He took some time out of his day to address a large group at the Oculus building just off the Alaska Highway, and explained in an interview beforehand he was happy to be joining a team with a Canadian owner.

“It’s awesome honestly,” Hinchcliffe said of the Canadian connection.

“He’s the only one in the series. He’s the only Canadian owner and I’m the only Canadian driver and the fact that we ended up together makes it that much better. “The support that I’ve gotten from back home has been incredible the last few years and I think this adds another element to that. I think Canadian race fans are going to appreciate that Ric [Peterson] and I are working together now. “

That owner is CEO of Oculus Transport Ric Peterson, who joined Schmidt Motorsports in 2013 and said that bringing Hinchcliffe to the team was more about having a driver who can excel on all surfaces and win the Indianapolis 500.

“It certainly wasn’t why we picked him,” Peterson said about the idea Hinchcliffe being Canadian played into the decision to sign him. “But the fact the he is Canadian is definitely a bonus and that he’s such a personable guy and stuff like that. We picked him because he can win on all types of tracks.”

Peterson said bringing the driver to Fort St. John was a matter of circumstance, but he was happy to give his employees the opportunity to see a potential Canadian icon in the flesh.

“We were bringing him to Calgary for our customer appreciation party and I thought ‘we should get him up here to see what we do and see some of our people’ he was quite excited to do it,” Peterson said.

“He actually drove a truck a little ways. It’s pretty cool.”

Hinchcliffe added that seeing what Oculus is all about helps him put the experience of signing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in perspective.

“It’s been great. It’s been cool getting to see a little bit of the company and meet some of the employees. I mean these are essentially sponsors now— they’ve got a car to cheer for now.  So it’s nice to be able to come up here and see some of them, put faces to names. It’s been cool. It’s been an education,” he said.

The mayor of Hinchtown will be joining a team that has a strong track record of winning in recent years and combining that with Canadian ownership made the process that much smoother.

“I’m obviously very excited about it. To get to move to a team that has done an awful lot in IndyCar in a pretty short amount of time is very exciting from a drivers point of view and that one of the owners is Canadian makes it that much better,” Hinchcliffe said. “Sam [Schmidt] and Ric were dead set on trying to get a Canadian in the car and the honestly the feeling was mutual. The process was really easy— so we are thrilled and looking forward to the next couple of years.”

Those next few years will be critical in the career development of Hinchcliffe, who might some day have the same impact on the sport of racing as his hero, the late Greg Moore.

“I still look at Greg [Moore] as the hero and I’m just a kid who’s lucky enough to get to drive every once in a while,” he said.

“In the same scope if there is ever a situation where I can have the same kind of effect on a young kart-er (sic) or racer then that’s incredible.

“Because honestly that played such a big part in me wanted to get into this sport and having a guy to look up to was a big deal. If I can have the shoe on the other foot and be that guy for some young racers that would be an incredible feeling.”

sports@ahnfsj.ca

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