Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports placed both drivers in the top 10 during Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but while it was a confidence booster for one driver, it was a disappointment for the other.
If the box scores from practice were to be trusted, James Hinchcliffe should have charged to the lead in the opening laps at Barber Motorsports Park and stayed there to challenge for the win.
His best lap in Friday’s first practice was less than a tenth off leader Felix Rosenqvist’s pace. Then, Hinchcliffe got increasingly faster with chart-topping laps in Practice 2 and in Saturday’s Practice 3.
A small mistake cost Hinchcliffe a shot at the pole, allowing the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing duo of Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal to leap frog him with Scott Dixon in tow. Hinchcliffe qualified fourth.
The first sign that he was losing some of his dominance came in Sunday morning warmup, when he posted the 14th-fastest lap.
Hinchliffe was able to take the lead a couple of times during pit stop sequences, but overall, the effort that landed him sixth at the finish was underwhelming in light of his practice speed.
“Obviously, with the pace we had all weekend, sixth is a bit of a disappointment, for sure,” he said after the race. “The Arrow car had a solid podium going there until that [Lap 58 caution] caught us off guard. We were all over (Scott) Dixon’s gearbox in that third stint. We were quite a bit quicker, just couldn’t get past. We were looking to make a move during that cycle, but that restart just threw us for a loop.
“We had a little bit too much understeer in the car in that last stint. We had a good long-run car, but we weren’t the quickest getting up to speed. I don’t think our out laps were great, and the first lap or so on the restart, we weren’t awesome. Certainly, a bit disappointed. I feel like we left a couple of positions out there today. It is what it is. The pace was good all weekend, and if we keep doing that, eventually our day will come.”
Hinchcliffe has started this season with two sixth-place finishes sandwiching a 16th-place result at Austin. Last season, he finished fourth (St. Petersburg), sixth (Phoenix) and ninth (Long Beach) in his first three races.
Finishing one position behind Hinchcliffe, teammate Marcus Ericsson could be much more pleased with his seventh-place result, however. Ericsson was the biggest gainer of the race, advancing 13 positions from his 20th-place spot on the grid.
Leaving Formula One at the end of last season after a 5-year run (best finish: eighth in the 2015 Australian Grand Prix), Ericsson expected to perform much better in IndyCar.
He ran well at St. Petersburg before a engine cooling issue forced him to retire a little past the halfway mark in 20th. The IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas did not go much better: He completed the race, but trouble in the pits relegated him to 15th at the end.
“I think, like St. Pete and COTA, we’ve shown how strong we are in the races,” Ericsson said Sunday. “Going from an obviously disappointing qualifying starting from P20 going all the way up to P7, I think that shows the potential we have and the whole package that we’ve got. So, I’m really, really happy with my race; we got the strategy perfect again like we have done the last couple of times, as well.
“It was really nice to finally get the result as well. We should’ve been in the top five at COTA without that penalty, and also in St. Pete, we were in for a top-eight finish. It’s so nice to finally bring it home and not get that bad luck to cause our problems like the last two rounds.”
But while Ericsson closed the deal, this also marked the first time in 2019 that the top-finishing rookie failed to crack the top five. Felix Rosenqvist was fourth at St Petersburg, with Colton Herta winning at COTA.