Hinchcliffe dances into victory lane at Long Beach

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – James Hinchcliffe was second on Dancing with the Stars last fall.

He made his return to Los Angeles for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ annual trip to Long Beach one spot better.

The driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda dominated today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach en route to the fifth win of his career, his first since NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015.

Hinchcliffe won his first Indy Lights race here in 2010 and now is back on the board to give Honda its second win of the season, thanks to a two-stop pit strategy.

St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais was second in the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, while Josef Newgarden took his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to third for his first podium with his new team. Bourdais was on a two-stop strategy but got a third added when he needed to pit for a rear wing assembly change following an opening lap caution, while Newgarden stuck to a three-stop strategy.

A three-stop strategy also occurred for Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud, both of whom were quick but unable to rise above fourth and fifth. Dixon’s was meant to be two stops but got changed to three earlier in the race.

A nightmare day saw all four Andretti Autosport Hondas have mechanical issues, costing potential wins or podiums for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, who qualified in the Firestone Fast Six.

A first-lap accident put pause to both Will Power’s and Charlie Kimball’s hopes. Kimball was also involved in a first-lap incident at St. Petersburg with Graham Rahal. Today, he was on the outside of turn 4 with Power trying to pass on the inside before they collided.

Meanwhile yellows were absent from the rest of the race until Rossi had a mechanical issue at the back of his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda when he was running third on Lap 63.

That was the lap Hinchcliffe took the lead for the last time in the race. He gapped Hunter-Reay on the eventual restart, six laps later on Lap 69, with Hunter-Reay falling more than two seconds in arrears.

Things got worse for Hunter-Reay when he too suffered mechanical issues – as Rossi, Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti all retired from the race – when he ground to a halt on Lap 80. Hunter-Reay told NBCSN he believed it was the same issue that befell him at Pocono Raceway last August.

The race was able to get restarted before the end of the 85-lap distance, with Hinchcliffe again checking out for the finish. Further contact occurred between JR Hildebrand and Mikhail Aleshin in that period, Aleshin later docked a position for the contact.

Bourdais held off Newgarden for second while Dixon was unable to get around Newgarden. Pagenaud, who started 21st and last, completed the top five.

Ed Jones posted his second top-10 in as many starts in sixth place, continuing Dale Coyne Racing’s dream start, with Carlos Munoz, Spencer Pigot, Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal rounding out the top 10.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: The top-10 finishers are the obvious, and beyond Hinchcliffe, Bourdais, Dixon and Pagenaud are the three drivers who have finished in the top-five in both races. Spencer Pigot got his first top-10 of the season as well.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Andretti Autosport: four cars, four mechanical DNFs in a very bizarre race for them after a solid qualifying effort. Polesitter Castroneves dropped five spots on the first lap and never was able to recover, ending ninth. He was also penalized during the race. Power’s nightmarish start to 2017 rolled on with a 13th place finish after the Lap 1 contact with Kimball. Conor Daly spun before the start of the race and never recovered, ending 16th. Contact between Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin left Kanaan with a flat left rear. They also collided at St. Petersburg. Aleshin was then docked a position post-race from 11th to 12th for contact with JR Hildebrand.

NOTABLE: This win is the first for both Hinchcliffe and SPM since NOLA 2015. It’s Hinchcliffe’s fifth and SPM’s sixth. Coyne’s four top-10s it has in two races this year is only two shy of its total from 2016, as Conor Daly had five and RC Enerson one.

QUOTABLE: Dixon, who finished fourth, was not happy about the loss of another potential win. He told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt post-race:

“(Two stops) was always the plan. I’m not sure what changed. Maybe the team thought a caution would come out. You play with fire. We gave the race away at that point. It got a little bit tougher with the NTT Data car later in the race. No one passed unless there was slower lapped traffic. It’s hard to swallow that one. It was going to be an easy victory otherwise.”

RESULTS

LONG BEACH, California – Results Sunday of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (4) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
2. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
3. (8) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (21) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (13) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running
7. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (6) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
11. (15) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Contact
12. (16) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 84, Running
13. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) Max Chilton, Honda, 84, Running
15. (11) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
16. (17) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 84, Running
17. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 79, Off Course
18. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 78, Off Course
19. (5) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 62, Mechanical
20. (10) Marco Andretti, Honda, 14, Off-Course
21. (7) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 1, Contact

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 90.845 mph
Time of Race: 1:50:28.9818
Margin of victory: 1.4940 seconds
Cautions: 3 for 11 laps
Lead changes: 6 among 3 drivers
Lap Leaders:
Dixon 1-15
Hunter-Reay 16-29
Dixon 30-41
Hunter-Reay 42-55
Hinchcliffe 56-57
Dixon 58-62
Hinchcliffe 63-85
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Bourdais 93, Hinchcliffe 74, Pagenaud 71, Dixon 70, Newgarden 59, Castroneves 51, Jones 48, Hunter-Reay 46, Sato 43, Andretti 36.

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”