Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe has endured a tough run of races since his win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In the nine races since then, he has only had three finishes inside the top 10, with two crashes (Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway) and an engine failure (Detroit Race 2) featured in that stretch, in a season that became somewhat defined by bad luck.
However, the Honda Indy Toronto brought about a welcome change, with Hinchcliffe qualifying sixth and then catching a lucky break when he pitted right before a caution flew for Tony Kanaan nosing into the turn 1 tire barriers.
From there, Hinchcliffe cycled back into the top five, where he stayed for the rest of the race to finish third, his second consecutive podium finish in his home race.
“The yellow just came at the right time but we had the pace at the end there,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis afterward. “We were catching Alex and Josef in that last stint. The car really came alive on the blacks so big thanks to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, all the guys – great stops — and all the fans in Toronto. I mean the support that we feel each and every year is amazing. You guys are the best! You came even when the weather wasn’t looking awesome and hung out with us and we appreciate it. So thanks to all of you guys. Next year, maybe a couple of spots better.”
What’s more, Hinchcliffe’s podium completes a strong weekend for Canadian drivers across the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.
Red Deer, Alberta native Parker Thompson won both races in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda for a Canadian team, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Exclusive Autosport, while Montreal, Quebec native Zachary Claman de Melo finished second and third in his outings in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
Combined, the results of Hinchcliffe, Thompson, and Claman de Melo made it five podiums in five open-wheel races at Toronto, with a Canadian driver on the podium in every race.
“It’s great to get two podiums here in Toronto,” said Claman de Melo following his third-place finish in Race 2. “I’ve raced karts here since I was 8 years old and it’s like my second home. I’ve hit my rhythm, so things are starting to really come together for us now. The speed has always been there but we’re qualifying toward the front now, which makes the racing a lot easier.”
Thompson, meanwhile, was beyond elated to sweep both races in USF2000. “I’m surprised I still have a voice! What a feeling, to get two in ‘TO’ in front of the Canadian fans! I’d say this is unbelievable, but it’s passed that now and into its own new realm,” he revealed in Victory Lane.
For Hinchcliffe, the third-place finish puts him back in the top 10 in the championship, two points ahead of 11th-place Max Chilton.
This weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, CNBC) isn’t James Hinchcliffe’s 100th Verizon IndyCar Series start – that came last weekend at Iowa Speedway – but it is an excellent opportunity for him to pick up an elusive first win on home soil.
Consider street courses have been where Hinchcliffe and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team has excelled most this season and you have a recipe, in theory, for more success.
Hinchcliffe has started third, fourth and fifth in the four previous street races this year and has led all 47 laps he has this season in three of those four.
He could well have won at St. Petersburg if not for an ill-timed yellow flag, did win at Long Beach and then rebounded from a first-lap spin at Detroit race one to bank his second podium of the year there.
A nice third place last year, in third courtesy of both pace (qualified sixth) and luck (got a lucky yellow) saw him on the podium for the first time in his home race and only fueled the desire to go two better this time around.
“Obviously this is on the top of the list of races we want to win,” Hinchcliffe told NBC Sports. “We got a bit of a taste of it last year, which made us that much hungrier. In the past we had horrible luck. Last year wasn’t just pure pace; we did have a lucky yellow.
“Street courses have been our strength by a significant margin this year. We haven’t been outside top five in quals, and St. Pete would have been a podium if not for the yellow. This track is very different to those. Always has been. Being good at Detroit doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good here. Hopefully you have a good handle on it.”
Hinchcliffe’s season overall has been plagued by bad luck and has seen him drop from a top-three points position down to 12th entering the weekend, which isn’t entirely representative of his pace.
Despite an 8.6 average grid position, Hinchcliffe only has five top-10 results all year – and just two of them in the last eight races after opening ninth, first and sixth out of the gate.
One of them came last week at Iowa, in 10th, which wasn’t bad and something of a nice course correction after getting taken out at both Indianapolis and Texas and having a late race mechanical issue at Detroit race two.
It also featured a highlight reel moment as Hinchcliffe split the gap in a three-wide move getting around Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, a pair of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams drivers. On reflection, Hinchcliffe said the hair-raising move might not have been the smartest.
“It wasn’t my smartest move!” Hinchcliffe laughed. “I tried to make it happen for a while. But big credit to Charlie, who gave us both room.
“I’d been stuck behind TK, and it was kind of a desperate move, but I was lucky we got out of it. It’s one of those things where you chalk it up to experience and move on all good!”
Understandably, the home race for Hinchcliffe packs a year’s worth of pressure and anticipation to perform ahead of his home fans. But just as Hinchcliffe was drawn to the series as a young fan at the Honda Indy in the 1990s, he fully understands the magnitude of being the hometown hero in the motorsports mad country of Canada, and he embraces how important it is to give back.
“Luckily I’m far enough into my career and have done it enough times that I know what’s expected of me, and how to handle the situation in general,” he said. “It’s always exciting to come home. This race made me fall in love with IndyCar and for me it’s a privilege to race in it.
“I think what works really well is having a good team of people. I’m not good at saying no – I want to do everything – so between the team and Fi (Hewitson, Hinchcliffe’s assistant) we have a good support system that helps me out and keeps us on schedule.”
Hinchcliffe’s philanthropic work is also on display during the Honda Indy weekend thanks to his Honda Canada relationship and its partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Canada. Hinchcliffe explains:
“I get to do a lot of different things throughout this week. But the thing I look forward to the most is with Honda Canada and Make-A-Wish. We do a lot for the organization, we bring a group of kids to the track, and I spend some time with them.
“It’s always the most rewarding thing. There’s no group you’ll get more inspiration from. It’s such a special thing to be a part of that, and give a bit back to those kids
“What we do with the (firesuit) is we put it up at the Honda world exhibit, and then the race suit I race with, that one gets auctioned off. You do every bit you can to help the cause.”
This will be Hinchcliffe’s seventh start in the Honda Indy after past runnings there in Formula Atlantic and Indy Lights previously. His first Honda Indy race, in 2011, came in his rookie season where there was the beginning of the changing of the guard among Canadians – NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy made his final Toronto start and Alex Tagliani made it three Canadians in the field.
That season stands out as one of Hinchcliffe’s ultimate highlights in his 100-start career, because of the magnitude of what it meant going forward to him.
“Certainly winning rookie-of-the-year in 2011 is one of the highlights of my career,” he reflected. “You only get one shot at that, and we missed St. Pete, and we weren’t sure if we’d make it to Brazil and Japan. Both were last-minute deals.
“But we got the result the last race of the season. That was a big rookie class (JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Ana Beatriz, James Jakes, Sebastian Saavedra). There five other full-time guys. It was a huge achievement.”
Back to this year, Hinchcliffe is confident the luck will turn for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda as it heads into the final six races of 2017.
“If we keep doing what we’re doing, and not to try do more, or engineer ourselves out of a good place past what we’re capable of doing; we should get these results. We’d done pretty well all season. The results should come back. We didn’t have anything go wrong at Iowa… so it’s nice to not have that hanging over our heads. Keep executing on Sundays and we’ll be back.”
The Rainguard Water Sealers 600 from Texas Motor Speedway has been red flagged 154 laps in due to a huge pileup involving several cars in turns three and four.
James Hinchcliffe, running in the top five at the time, was pinched in between Tony Kanaan and teammate Mikhail Aleshin entering turn three and broke loose. While he tried correcting it, he collected Aleshin and Tristan Vautier, with all three cars impacting the outside wall.
In the aftermath, Carlos Munoz, Ed Jones, Ed Carpenter, JR Hildebrand, and Ryan Hunter-Reay were all caught up trying to avoid the wreck.
GANASSI, HINCHCLIFFE AND ALESHIN WEIGH IN
Kanaan’s team owner Chip Ganassi offered this viewpoint to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt: “(Hinchcliffe) crashed in the pit lane (early in the race), he stuck his nose in that situation, why didn’t (he) stay right there? Instead he gets pushed into Tony.”
A frustrated Hinchcliffe told NBCSN’s Marty Snider that Kanaan moved up into him entering turn three. “I got a run off turn 2, (Kanaan) comes over, 2.5 car widths, he drives me straight into Mikhail. We were 3-wide. Spotter didn’t tell him, or he didn’t care. He usually doesn’t race like that,” he explained.
Told by Snider that Ganassi blamed Hinchcliffe, the Canadian promptly retorted, “That’s adorable.”
Aleshin, who was on the outside, explained that he felt like an innocent bystander. “I thought we’d all stay together. But then James touched with Kanaan and basically we all crashed. I thought we’d make it in three lines. James was there, Kanaan was there, and I didn’t understand what was going on. I gave space to them,” he told NBCSN’s Robin Miller.
In total, only 11 cars are left running following the wreck, and a visibly frustrated Dale Coyne, who saw both of his cars (Vautier and Jones) caught up in the accident, was seen having words with Tony Kanaan about the incident during the red flag.
Both Ed Carpenter Racing crews were trying to repair their Nos. 20 and 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. Here were Carpenter’s and JR Hildebrand’s quotes.
Hildebrand: “Hinch got stuck in the middle. A few guys got three-wide. Two of the three ended in the wall. I was right behind Ed Jones. He jammed on the brakes. We were running so close. Even we broke at same time I had mad aero wash. We had a great second stint. The Fuzzy’s Vodka car was working great. I’m totally confident we would have hauled it back to the front.”
Carpenter: “For as big of a crash at it was it wasn’t that bad. We’ll try to pick up a few points and pass a few cars. It was a wild night.”
Both Dale Coyne Racing cars were taken out. Here was Tristan Vautier and Ed Jones’ comments:
Vautier: “There was nothing I could do. They tangled in front of me. It’s just a bummer. We could have fought for the win. I wanted to finish the race for my return. I raced hard. I wanted a solid finish. I’m kind of pissed off. I think we can be proud. We represented Seb well.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz were also involved in the accident for Andretti Autosport and AJ Foyt Racing.
Hunter-Reay: “I don’t know what I have to do. We spent the rest of the night trying to claw back. We missed the equation. This deal happened. Guys made too many moves late into the car. I’ll save my opinion after I look at it but sparks everywhere, I high-sided and came out a passenger from there. You can’t jump on the brakes in these cars 220 into the corner. I like it when races come down to handling. Lot of crazy moves. I was having fun.”
Munoz: “We were in the top 10, but needed a bit more speed. What can we say. We started last because we missed tech. I wanted to give a good race for my mechanics. It’s the most competitive car we’ve had this season. We kept running with the front guys. In ovals, when you have a multiple car crash, there’s nothing you can do.”
James Hinchcliffe’s day nearly came to an early end during Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver spun exiting Turn 1 just after the green flag fell and, while he managed to avoid hitting the wall, the car stalled and needed to get refired before he could rejoin. However, he then caught a lucky break when a full course caution was flown for his stalled car, allowing him to rejoin the field without losing a lap.
From there, restarting 22nd and last in the field, Hinchcliffe used a combination of strategy (the team ran a two-stop race after pitting for new tires under the caution) and sheer pace to climb back into the top five by lap 20.
From there, he hung around the top five for the rest of the day and held off a fast-charging Josef Newgarden for third behind Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon, completing a Honda sweep of the podium.
As he detailed afterward, tire strategy, and a lucky caution for a stalled Conor Daly and spinning Charlie Kimball on lap 26, proved crucial in his comeback.
“Tires are the name of the game here. To be able to get off the reds after the spin in the first turn there played to our advantage,” he said.
“And then we got that yellow at the right time right after out stop. It put us up where we belonged and I think we showed that the No. 5 Arrow car had a lot of pace. To come back from that – the boys were great in the pits and really happy to grab a podium here today.”
Hinchcliffe added that he used inspiration from Sebastien Bourdais, who won the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after starting last, to help fuel his comeback. And he knew that race strategy would help his cause.
“I kind of sat in my car and thought ‘Well, Sebastien did it in St. Pete, why can’t we do the same thing?’ he quipped. “Knowing there was a strategy that kind of favored guys getting off reds who were at the back early, I immediately, as soon as we were back (there), knew we were going to be switching to that. We kind of had a backup plan in that sense.”
Hinchcliffe finished, “I was just lucky that the car was good enough and we were able to make some passes on track, make some spaces up in pit lane.”
This is Hinchcliffe’s second podium of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, his other being the victory at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Race 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear rolls off tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Second-place may be the first loser, but for Helio Castroneves, finishing second in Sunday’s 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 left him with a very nice consolation prize:
He’s now No. 1 in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.
Castroneves took over the top spot in the IndyCar rankings from Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, who dropped to a three-way tie for second place with Sunday’s 500 race winner Takuma Sato and 500 pole-sitter Scott Dixon, who was involved in a terrible crash about one-fourth of the way through the race.
Castroneves has 249 points, while Pagenaud, Sato and Dixon are all 15 points back with 234 points each.
Last year’s Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, is fifth in the standings with 190 points.
Tony Kanaan, who finished fifth in Sunday’s race, is sixth in the IndyCar standings with 188 points. Rounding out the top-10 are teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden, who are both tied with 186 points.
IndyCar rookie Ed Jones, who finished a very strong third in the 500, is ninth in the rankings with 185 points, and James Hinchcliffe is 10th with 170 points.