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Great memories, great motivation greet Hinchcliffe upon return to L.A.

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From mid-September to late November last year, James Hinchcliffe lived in Los Angeles.

“The Mayor of Hinchtown’s” full-time residence is in Indianapolis and his home is Oakville, Ontario, just outside Toronto. But it’s L.A. where Hinchcliffe made a visit to the national spotlight over his star turn finishing runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars.”

It’s his star turn at L.A.’s home race on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, though, where he looks for his next trophy. The streets of Long Beach (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) have long been a highlight of Hinchcliffe’s career, at a race track where he’s competed for more than a decade.

It was in 2006 that Hinchcliffe made his debut at Long Beach in the Formula Atlantic series, finishing third ahead of eventual fellow IndyCar drivers Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal in fourth and fifth. In 2010, he scored his first Indy Lights race win there from pole.

A year later in 2011, he banked his first career IndyCar top-five finish of fourth with Newman/Haas Racing in just his second start and the following year he made it to his first IndyCar podium in third with Andretti Autosport, trailing race winner Will Power and Pagenaud.

LONG BEACH, CA – APRIL 15: (L – R) James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #27 Andretti Autosport Dallara Chevrolet, Will Power of Australia, driver of the #12 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet, and Simon Pagenaud of France, driver of the #77 Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Dallara Honda, celebrate with a lap of honor after repectively finishing second, first and third during the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15, 2012 on the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The Long Beach results haven’t been as great since. Crashes took him out of the 2013 and 2014 races, and lackluster 12th and eighth place results have occurred the last two years.

But given the level of continuity and year-to-year improvement from the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda team, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hinchcliffe back in the Firestone Fast Six this go-around and back on a podium he knows rather well.

“It’s one of my favorite events of the whole year,” he told NBC Sports. “Indy doesn’t count and Toronto I’m biased, so those are obviously up there. But this place is going on 43 years for a reason.

“The track is amazing. Having hosting F1 and become an IndyCar staple, all the greats have won there. Like you said, I’ve had a bunch of success there. I have a lot of happy memories at that place. It’s usually treated me pretty well. People get behind it so much, and I think it’s second only to Indianapolis.”

Hinchcliffe’s year-to-year progression in qualifying is notable because at St. Petersburg, his first year with SPM, he qualified 16th. That became eighth last year and this year, was third, although a bit had to do with the newer spec Honda power unit at St. Petersburg compared to last year.

Long Beach, too, should trend in the right direction if that form holds. He was 13th on the grid in 2015 and seventh last year. He qualified in the top-10 on the grid the previous three years there too, although in 2012 started 16th as a result of the then-10-spot grid penalties assessed to teams that made pre-race engine changes.

Results aside, and ninth was an unfair result for a very likely podium or potential win had Hinchcliffe not been caught on the wrong side of a Lap 26 caution, the St. Petersburg weekend may have been Hinchcliffe’s best yet with SPM.

“It speaks volumes of efforts of how we’re growing as a group. St. Pete was one of our best weekends,” he said. “The end result wasn’t what we wanted. But we didn’t make any dramatic changes. It went from top-10 in practice, to the Fast Six, then did what we did in the race from what we could control.

“In that sense it just shows we’re growing as a group. Hopefully it’s a trend. Last year there were many races where we had good car and good weekends, but we also had some outliers where we were out to lunch.”

It’s been a busy stint since St. Petersburg for Hinchcliffe. Since the season opener he’s tested a DTM car in Italy, tested his IndyCar at both Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, and also done advance media for Long Beach.

The Barber test was pivotal, Hinchcliffe said, because of how the team is adapting to a new tire from Firestone this season.

“It was a positive. I’m glad we went because this tire is different,” he said. “We spent a day ‘blowing up’ our Barber setups. But now the new tire threw us a bit for a loop. It was tough to get a grip on. We didn’t use overtake on our fast laps. We’re not worried just yet; I feel like we have some good direction.”

Hinchcliffe also has two continued positive elements in his off-track life. Girlfriend Becky has started attending more races on site, while Hinchcliffe’s brother Christopher has just released his first book, Chasing Checkers.

“She’s amazing. She’s my rock,” Hinchcliffe said of Becky, who’s an actress by trade. “She has a great understanding of what this kind of business is like. There’s a lot of highs and lows; rejections. A lot of crazy schedules and things you have to do, places to go.

“To have someone who is by your side to understand that, as you have a dream career is huge. She was such a big help to me with the show being out in L.A., and me having literally no time on my own. Having her there was tremendous to get through every day.”

As for his brother?

“We’ll see how accomplished (an author) he becomes,” Hinchcliffe laughed. “It’s funny… it’s something Chris put together on his own with observations of me wanting to be a racing driver, and hopefully there’s series. It’s not about me… but it’s about a young Canadian kid who wants to become an IndyCar driver. Some drivers are definitely based on others from my age and I read it and I went, ‘I know who that guy is based on!’

“You know what, when I had a chance to read it… it’s aimed at young adults, it’s not ’50 Shades of Gray.’ I think he did a tremendous job.”

Hinchcliffe will look to do his own tremendous job back in his day job for Round 2 this season, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, as he searches for his first podium of the year and perhaps another win on the famous street circuit.

After ‘rough start’ to 2017, Raikkonen responds with Russia podium

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Kimi Raikkonen was pleased to put a “rough start” to the 2017 Formula 1 season behind him by charging to third place in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix for Ferrari.

Raikkonen entered the Sochi weekend with half the points of Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel, having seen the German driver claim two wins and one second-place finish in the opening three rounds of the year.

Raikkonen had failed to hit the podium in F1 since the Austrian Grand Prix in July, but nearly scored his first F1 pole for nine years on Saturday after running Vettel close in qualifying.

Despite slipping behind eventual race winner Valtteri Bottas at the start, Raikkonen was able to keep Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton back early on before enduring a rather lonely race en route to third place.

“I think I have had a bit of a rough start to the season, far from ideal. This weekend for sure has been a step forward,” Raikkonen said on the podium after the race.

“We’ve been more happy with how things have been running, but we still only finished third. We lost out off the start and then not an awful lot happened after that.

“We keep trying and keep improving, I’m sure we’ll get there. It’s all about all the small details have to be exactly there, then you will get the first place, because the four of us are very close most of the time.

“It’s a small difference that makes a big difference in the end.”

Despite clinching a double podium with Vettel and Raikkonen in P2 and P3 respectively, Ferrari lost the lead of the constructors’ championship in Russia as Bottas’ victory pushed Mercedes one point clear.

Vettel heaps praise on ‘man of the race’ Bottas after Russia F1 win

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Sebastian Vettel was quick to heap praise upon Mercedes rival Valtteri Bottas following the Finn’s maiden Formula 1 victory in Russia on Sunday.

Vettel entered the race in Sochi chasing his third win of the season from pole position, only for Bottas to blast past him on the run to Turn 2 on the opening lap.

Bottas was able to pull clear through the first stint before Vettel reeled the Mercedes driver in during the closing stages, with the Ferrari looking faster on the super-soft tire.

Vettel eventually fell 0.6 seconds shy of Bottas at the flag, but was full of praise for the first-time winner despite missing out on victory himself.

“I obviously tried everything to catch Valtteri, I thought there might be some kind of opportunity on the back straight,” Vettel explained.

“I was sure [Felipe Massa, who was being lapped] would lift around Turn 3, it’s flat out, and let me by so I wouldn’t lose much time. But then I think just wasn’t sure what he was going to do, and ended up losing a bit more than I was hoping for.

“In the end it doesn’t matter. I think this is the man of the race today, big congrats to Valtteri, his first grand prix win. It’s his day.

“I think we tried everything, but obviously we lost the race at the start, which was a bit of a shame. I had a good start. I think our start was probably a match to Valtteri, maybe he gained a bit of momentum at the beginning, but then he had a massive tow.

“I defended the inside, but by the time we approached braking he was already in front and able to shut the door on me, so well done. That’s where he won the race, and then he did a superb first stint, I couldn’t stay with him.

“He was very, very quick all race, no mistakes. As I said, man of the race.”

Despite finishing second, Vettel managed to extend his championship lead to 13 points in Russia after closest-rival Lewis Hamilton ailed to fourth place in the second Mercedes.

Bottas: First F1 win feels ‘amazing’, worth the 81-race wait

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Valtteri Bottas made no secret of his delight after scoring his first Formula 1 race win in Russia on Sunday, beating Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to victory at the Sochi Autodrom.

In just his fourth race for Mercedes, Bottas charged from third place on the grid to seize the lead at the start en route to his maiden grand prix victory, coming on his 81st start.

Bottas made his F1 debut back in 2013 with Williams, and had not won a race since a British Formula 3 round at Donington Park in 2011 before today’s breakthrough.

“Amazing. It took quite a while, more than 80 races for me, but definitely worth the wait and worth the learning curve,” Bottas said after the race.

“This strange opportunity came to me in the winter to join this team, and they made it possible today, so really want to thank the team. Without them it wouldn’t be possible. It feels amazing.”

The result marked Mercedes’ second win of the season and sees the German marque re-claim the lead of the constructors’ championship, moving one point clear of Ferrari.

“We’ve had a tricky beginning of the year. The fight with Ferrari, again today, was very close,” Bottas said.

“We managed to be on top, but we have to keep pushing. We have to keep finishing with both cars all the time one and two.

“Just very, very happy now.”

Bottas takes maiden F1 victory in Russia despite late Vettel charge

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Valtteri Bottas became Formula 1’s newest winner after dominating Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix for Mercedes, leading home Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the Sochi Autodrom on Sunday.

In what was something of a slow-burner in Sochi, Bottas managed to seize the lead from pole-sitter Vettel at the start before perfecting the restart after a safety car period to create a healthy buffer that acted as the foundation for his first F1 victory.

Despite a late charge from Vettel – chasing his third win of the season – in the closing stages, Bottas was able to hang on and become the fifth Finnish driver to claim a grand prix victory, coming in just his fourth race for Mercedes.

Ferrari’s advantage in qualifying was quickly overturned at the start when Bottas managed to get a slipstream on both Vettel and Raikkonen, allowing him to pass ahead of Turn 2. Vettel settled down in second ahead of Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, but the race was quickly neutralized following a clash between Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer that sparked a safety car period.

Bottas managed to perfect the restart once the incident had been cleared to quickly gap Vettel, opening up a three-second lead in the laps that followed. Hamilton was doing his best to keep in touch with Raikkonen in third, only for Mercedes to confirm that his car was overheating, forcing him to ease off his pace.

The battle for fifth also took a twist in the early stages of the race when Daniel Ricciardo suffered a brake failure, forcing him to retire from the race. Max Verstappen was able to move ahead of Felipe Massa off the line, giving Red Bull something to be upbeat about, but hopes of the podium remained slim.

Bottas’ lead stood at around five seconds after 20 laps, but his lead soon began to fall. A mixture of both traffic and tire blistering allowed Vettel to gain time hand-over-fist as the first round of pit stops neared, moving to within three seconds of the Finnish driver.

Bottas was the first of the leaders to pit, coming in for a new set of super-soft tires at the end of Lap 27. Mercedes serviced Bottas quickly, but Ferrari did not react immediately, instead choosing to keep Vettel out in the hope that the ‘overcut’ would play into his hands again as it did in Australia.

Ferrari eventually pulled the trigger on Lap 34, bringing Vettel in to make the switch to super-soft tires after seeing Raikkonen lay down an impressive pace after changing compound a few laps earlier. With Bottas struggling to match the pace of the Ferraris on the super-softs, the Finn’s stranglehold on the race looked weaker than before despite being back in the lead.

Vettel made up yet more time with 13 laps to go when Bottas ran wide at Turn 13, appearing to struggle with his front-left tire and lock up. The mistake allowed Vettel to close to within two seconds, setting the stage for a fight to the flag.

Vettel managed to find some clear air between traffic and move around a second behind Bottas with four laps to go. Bottas kept getting a good exit from the final corner, ensuring Vettel did not get DRS at first, making it difficult for the Ferrari driver to pull a pass.

A good lap saw Vettel finally dip under the one second margin and get the DRS boost with two laps to go. With Bottas also coming across traffic, the pair were separated by just a few car lengths heading onto the final lap.

Bottas was offered a late bonus when he came across Felipe Massa, running a lap down, and was able to use DRS himself. Massa also made life difficult for Vettel behind, allowing Bottas to move clear once again.

It proved to be the final act in an exciting finish, with Bottas coming through to secure his maiden grand prix victory and give Mercedes its second win of the year. Vettel was left to settle for P2, but extended his lead in the drivers’ championship in the process to 13 points.

Kimi Raikkonen endured a rather lonely finish to the race, crossing the line third to pick up his first podium finish of the year. He finished over 15 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton, whose difficult weekend came to a quiet end in P4, over 20 seconds down on the race winner.

Max Verstappen led Red Bull’s charge alone in fifth place following Ricciardo’s early retirement, while Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon continued Force India’s record of getting both cars into the points at every race, the pair finishing sixth and seventh respectively.

Nico Hulkenberg was able to follow his first points for Renault in Bahrain with a second charge into the top 10, finishing eighth. Felipe Massa had looked set to finish sixth, only for a slow puncture to force him into a late second stop, leaving him P9 at the flag. Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the points for Toro Rosso in 10th.

Lance Stroll recorded his first race finish in F1, crossing the line 11th in the second Williams, while home favorite Daniil Kvyat was left to settle for 12th. Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne finished 13th and 14th respectively for Haas and McLaren, both having been hit with penalties for exceeding track limits on the opening lap. Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein finished 15th and 16th respectively for Sauber, closing out the classified running order.

Fernando Alonso’s struggles with McLaren-Honda hit a new low just before the race started when he suffered a power unit failure on the formation lap, forcing him to abandon his car at pit entry. It went down as his first ‘Did Not Start’ since the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which curiously will be his next destination for his IndyCar test with Andretti Autosport on Wednesday.

Formula 1 returns in two weeks’ time with the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.