When you’re racing in the southern hemisphere, particularly ‘down-under’ in Australia, the last thing you expect is to be facing the right way up for the northern hemisphere but that’s exactly what happened to A1 Team Canada’s James Hinchcliffe last weekend in Round 7 of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport.

The 20-year-old Toronto rookie survived a heart-stopping 160kph double barrel roll on the opening lap of the 70-minute Feature race at the Eastern Creek International Raceway on Sunday, the Canadian ending his race prematurely parked upside down in Turn 4’s gravel trap.

Hinchcliffe’s spectacular crash followed a solid start but as the pack headed to Turn 4, James’ right-rear tire was tagged by the front-left tire of A1 Team Singapore’s Christian Murchison as he dived up the inside attempting to secure the racing line.  The contact between the two was enough to send James barrel rolling across the track twice before the dust settled in the gravel trap revealing the Canadian A1GP car beached upside down on its roll hoop – the strength of which allowed James to walk away unharmed from the incident.

Recalling the moment James reflected, “It’s funny as it felt like it was happening in slow motion.  Looking back when I replay it in my head it all happens quite quickly but I remember when I was actually going through it there was a lot going through my mind and it felt like it played out over a longer period of time.

“Obviously my first thought was ‘oh no I’m flipping’ but it was closely followed by ‘hold on this could hurt’!  I didn’t know which angle I was going to hit at so I just grabbed the bottom of the steering wheel, ducked my head down and prayed for the best.  I knew when we rubbed tires we were traveling pretty quickly into the turn so when I hit the ground the first time I knew it probably wasn’t going to be the last time and sure enough I went over again.”

James then found himself dealing with a personal phobia.  He continued, “One of my biggest fears in life is landing upside down in a race car as I can get pretty claustrophobic.  Until Australia I’d never had to worry about it as I’d never flipped a race car but just my luck that I then had to deal with exactly that.  I took a few deep breaths, established that I wasn’t hurt in any way then radioed the guys in the pits to say I was ok.  I stayed in the car as I knew it would be pretty awkward to try and get out on my own so I hung in upside down until the safety crew arrived.

“They eventually put the car on its side and I popped the seat belts and freed myself from the tub, a little easier than had I tried to get out on my own.  Its standard procedure to go back to the Medical Centre and get checked out following an accident like that so I headed over there where they kept me monitored for half an hour to let the adrenaline settle and to see if any major aches or pains develop, which thankfully they didn’t.”

With both Hinchcliffe and Murchison agreeing that what happened was simply an on-track racing incident there was no ill-feeling following their respective retirements from the Feature race.

“It was absolutely a racing incident,” said James.  “It was nobody’s fault and there was nothing intentional about it.  Christian kindly came up to me afterwards to see if I was alright as he obviously got the best view in the house to see me flipping over.  As a fellow driver he would have known it was a bit of a hairy shunt so it was cool of him to come over and check everything was fine, which it was.”

The safety of the Lola-built A1GP car was praised again following James’ accident with no-one more grateful for the safety measures in place in the design and build of the chassis and roll-hoops than the driver himself.

“I landed right on the roll hoop on the asphalt when I went over and we were doing something like 160kph into the turn so it was a significant impact first time around,” Hinchcliffe reflected.  “I walked away unharmed with nothing more than a headache to deal with which really says a lot about what these cars can take in the way of impacts, they’re built like tanks.  As far as safety goes the car did its job which will allow me to keep me doing mine!”

Lola Cars, based in Huntingdon, England, were equally pleased to see their product withstand the crash test meted out at Eastern Creek on Sunday.

“James’ accident was certainly a significant one in Australia but all our engineers here at Lola are world class when it comes to ensuring the drivers safety,” commented Lola’s Communications Manager, Sam Smith. 

“Safety is and always will be the main priority when it comes to designing racing cars there days.  The A1GP Car went through a full FIA spec crash test before the car even turned a wheel.  The roll hoop test went through a static load of 78.75 kilo Newtons.  That is some eight metric tones of force which is over ten times the weight of the entire running car.  This load is applied in a compound fashion meaning that some is applied laterally and some vertically.”

Smith continued, “It looks like James experienced several impacts on both the tarmac and in the run-off area.  This is legislated for in the crash tests.  On top of the load tests that we subject the cars to we also laminate a steel plate in to the carbon fibre roll hoop which protects the structure should it be subjected to multiple impacts and in particular a prolonged grinding.  In terms of strength design, the roll hoop itself has more material (carbon fibre) than the cockpit and is also bonded and bolted on to the chassis itself.”

James will have the chance to put the disappointment of Round 7 firmly behind him when he straps back into Canada’s A1GP car in South Africa at the end of the month, the nation versus nation series returning to the streets of Durban for Round 8, 23rd-25th February.
For information on Lola please contact: 
Sam Smith 
Lola Cars International Ltd
Glebe Road, St Peters Road,
PE29 7DS
Tel: +44 (0) 1480 359590
James Hinchcliffe in the Team Canada car during the earlier Sprint Race.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Little knowing what was in store for him James poses with one of the grid girls.
(Picture A1GP.com)
The Team Canada car flips over as the Team Singapore car of Christian Murchison takes avoiding action.
(Picture A1GP.com)
(Picture A1GP.com)
(Picture A1GP.com)
(Picture A1GP.com)
The end of the ride.
(Jakob Ebrey Photography)