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Engine problems end Hinchcliffe's day early in Toronto

The Canadian Press

7/8/2012 5:17:03 PM

TORONTO -- After several minutes in the pits, James Hinchcliffe's crew revved his crippled engine one last time.

The crackling sound it made told him his day was done.

Hinchcliffe capped a rough week with an early exit from Sunday's Honda Indy Toronto. The Oakville, Ont., native, who remains fifth in the IndyCar driver standings, pulled out after just 27 laps due to persistent engine troubles.

"It started as a little hesitation that was progressively getting worse, and that usually means it's going to blow up soon," said Hinchcliffe. "Rather than risk that and maybe having a 10-place penalty in Edmonton (on July 22), hopefully we can take this one back, get it fixed and just hit the ground running in two weeks."

The other Canadian in the race, Alex Tagliani of Lachenaie, Que., was forced into two early pit stops but stormed back to finish 10th.

Engine woes plagued Hinchcliffe all week long. A problem during Friday's qualifying session forced the 25-year-old to swap out engines, a move that resulted in a 10-place penalty and forced him to start 19th on the grid.

Hinchcliffe was one of the fastest in the field on Sunday, moving up six spots in the first 14 laps. He moved into the top 12 on Lap 16 before hitting the pits for a tire change and vaulted to fifth when the lead pack pitted en masse 10 laps later.

But the Andretti Autosports driver went back into the pits after telling his team he felt a "weird hesitation" in the motor.

"They wanted to know exactly what I could feel, and then as I started reporting that, they started seeing it in the data and they could see that something was seriously wrong," Hinchcliffe said. "For them, the big thing is that we were out of this race no matter what.

"It was more to try and protect Edmonton now and not have to switch to another engine."

Fans sitting in the vicinity of the pit area groaned after discovering Hinchcliffe was out, then gave him a warm ovation as he waved to the crowd.

Sunday's disappointing result did little to dampen Hinchcliffe's mood. He was upbeat when speaking with reporters and spoke about how fortunate he felt to be able to race in his home town.

"It's so cool coming home to race in Toronto," he said. "I guess I'm getting a small sense of what Paul (Tracy) lived through for all these years. You can't go through the paddock on your scooter without 10, 12, 15 people knowing who you are and wishing you luck.

"I've never experienced anything like this."

Team owner Michael Andretti, a seven-time champion in Toronto as a driver, said he believed Hinchcliffe and race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay had a chance to finish 1-2.

"I feel so bad for him, because he was doing a hell of a job," Andretti said. "He was going to be a factor for the win. Watching the times he was running ... and then his engine had a problem, which was a shame."

Tagliani made an early pit stop for a tire change but the move didn't yield results. He was forced to stop again on Lap 26 to fix a broken nose section, a move that dropped him to the back of the pack.

He eventually made up enough ground -- and avoided the late-race calamity that claimed several other drivers -- to secure his ninth top-10 finish in 12 open-wheel races in Toronto, and his first since 2009.

"To finish the day with a 10th place position is pretty amazing," Tagliani said. "I think we had a fast car but we never had the chance to prove it. We had a wing problem early on, then some tire pressure and then finally when the car was good, we didn't have sixth gear.

"I'm very proud."

Notes: Tracy -- a native of Toronto -- is the only Canadian to win the race, capturing the 1993 and 2003 titles. ... Hinchcliffe was surprised when told that IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard considers him one of the circuit's stars. "I hadn't realized we had gotten to that point," said Hinchcliffe, who is still looking for his first win. "That's a flattering thing for the boss to say." ... Tagliani's best result in Toronto was a runner-up finish in 2001.