INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not quite conquering the oval part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yet, but a podium in his first start at the iconic track since his accident in practice last year marked a great result and comeback to the track for James Hinchcliffe.
Even better was the fact it came following a breakthrough weekend from a performance standpoint, as the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was consistently one of if not the fastest Hondas all weekend, and a regular in the top three. This came after the team recovered from diagnosing a mechanical issue – a small fire – which sidelined them all of first practice and into second practice.
Hinchcliffe and the SPM team had been close with three prior top-10 starts on the other three road or street course events this year.
But a fourth place qualifying effort, which became third on the grid once Graham Rahal was sent to the back, would set him up nicely to deliver on Saturday.
“I’m super proud of the No. 5 car, everybody on the Arrow Electronics team has done such a good job the last few races,” Hinchcliffe said post-race. “The momentum has really been rolling with us. We had a great race in Long Beach, great race in Barber, better race here. Missed all of first practice and still managed to get the car out there and qualify in the second row, race our way to a podium.
“Wasn’t easy. There was a lot of back and forth there. Some great racing, great work in the pits. Can’t thank the guys enough for the pit stop. That second stop was just killer. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite stay in front of Simon there.
“But had a great battle with Charlie a couple times there side-by-side for a few corners, and it was nice not having to save fuel. Just getting to go and drive a race hard and push this thing every lap and have some great battles along the way. Huge credit to Honda; obviously there’s a big upturn in form there, and really proud of the effort those guys have done.
“Big congrats to Simon. Three in a row is pretty impressive, and Helio coming from where he started, he was doing decent, came back at the end. We caught up to him but couldn’t quite get by him. As you said, catching him is one thing, passing him is another. But no, great effort from the guys all around.”
It marks Hinchcliffe’s first podium since his win at NOLA Motorsports Park last year. It was admittedly strategy and weather aided while this result spoke directly to the performance improvements from both driver and team in their second season, and first full season together.
“A win always feels better, I’ll be honest,” he laughed. “Helio can agree with that one.
“But no, for sure, to start in the second row was great and to be able to stay up there all day long, to have good pace at the end of the race there, like I said, I don’t think we had quite enough to do anything with Simon. But we maybe could have at least kept up with him, and that’s huge. It shows huge gains on the team’s side, on the manufacture’s side, and in certain ways, it’s more rewarding, but a win is still a win, let’s be honest, you know.”
The other good element of the day for the “Mayor of Hinchtown” – who with his third successive top-10 result now moved up to eighth place in points – was that he donated his prize winnings to the victims of the wildfires in Fort McMurray.
“It was a good day to have a good day with, what was happening up there, it was tough to watch, and with Ric Peterson, one of my team owners, his business is based kind of up in that part of the country. And Petro-Canada has a lot of people on the ground in Fort-Mac, and it’s terrible what happened to that place.
“It’s small, but like I said, it’s a good day to have a good day and hopefully the little bit that we are contributing, it’s obviously going to a good cause and hopefully it can help out.”
Hinchcliffe and the rest of the IndyCar field will return to action on Monday with oval practice at IMS.