AVONDALE, La. – His win in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana came courtesy of a strategic masterstroke from engineer Allen McDonald, assistant engineer Will Anderson and strategist Robert Gue, but for James Hinchcliffe, it didn’t matter “how” the win happened so much as the fact that it happened.
Hinchcliffe has been something of a race ambassador since the Andretti Sports Marketing-promoted race was first announced last fall.
He’s been to the city for testing, for Mardi Gras in February, and now once more for the race weekend. He was also featured in NBCSN’s first episode of INDYCAR Chronicles, which premiered on Friday afternoon.
And now, he’s a race winner for the first time in nearly two years, and for the first time with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“Yeah, I came down here last June for the announcement that we were going to be doing a race here, and seeing how far the track has come is incredible,” he said. “The entire crew here have done an excellent job. Kristin, Tim, all those guys deserve a huge amount of credit and IndyCar for pulling it off.
“When we got to come down for Mardi Gras, that was a pretty unique experience in and of itself. etting to see the local culture and getting to be a part of that, and at the same time seeing how everybody was looking forward to the race. Everybody heard of the track. Everybody heard that IndyCar was coming to town, and it wasn’t that a race was coming to town, they knew IndyCar was coming to town and that’s not something we see all the time.
“So to have them have that kind of enthusiasm and come out and sit through what was not exactly an ideal weekend weatherwise, it means a lot to us. So I hope they enjoyed it, and we can’t wait to come back next year and hopefully put on an even better show.”
The win was also poignant from a perspective of working with one previous team owner – Sam Schmidt, whom he drove for in the 2009 Indy Lights season – and also with Ric Peterson, who is the only Canadian team owner in the series.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s awesome driving for Sam and for Rick, being the Canadian team owner, and a team owner that I raced for in Indy Lights,” Hinchcliffe said. “He really helped bring me into this world and taught me about oval racing and the IndyCar world in general. So to have come full circle and get back to race with him was great.
“It’s funny, I never even actually won a race for Sam in Lights. All my wins came the following year. It’s definitely a lot better.
“I’d much rather do it at this level and give him one of these because he deserves it. All the guys deserve it. Allen and Robert and Will, and all the guys on the stand that made that call. That’s not an easy risk to take, but we did it, and it paid off. So they deserve this one, for sure.”
The call itself – Hinchcliffe won on a one-stop strategy after pitting on Lap 13 – was a go-for-broke call. Gue, who was interviewed during the NBCSN broadcast, said they had to go for it with the frequency of yellows that popped up in the second half of the race.
“The first stop was great, picked up a few more places there, and the crew made that decision on the yellow to stay out,” Hinchcliffe said. “Honestly, at first we did it for weather, but the weather held off.
“At the end of the day it was actually yellows that saved us. At first I was cursing the yellows that were coming out because we needed to green to get the gap to have a better shot at it when we did stop.
“But a one-stop strategy, who thought that was going to play out here today?”
There weren’t many, if any, who thought that would be the case. But it was, and “Hinch” and SPM made the most of the circumstances to score their first win together.