April 12 in Motorsports History: Hinchcliffe wins at New Orleans


On April 12, 2015, a combination of strategy and luck propelled James Hinchcliffe to victory in one of the crazier races in recent IndyCar history, the lone running of the Indy Grand Prix of Lousiana.

Simply put, the race itself was a total mess with more than half its distance being run under yellow.

The race was held at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale outside of New Orleans, a 2.74-mile, 13-turn road course in the middle of a swamp with faulty drainage. Rain had plagued the majority of the weekend, causing poor driving conditions.

With the entire field starting the race on rain tires, the first 15 laps actually went caution-free. However, teams began switching to slicks on Lap 11. With portions of the track still wet, multiple on-track accidents caused 26 of the remaining 32 laps to be run under yellow.

Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya led 31 of the first 32 laps before a yellow for Sage Karam going off course. Montoya and the next seven cars behind him all pitted.

James Hinchcliffe, who last pitted on Lap 13, did not come in. Hinchcliffe’s strategist, Robert Gue, kept him on track, expecting more cautions in the race, which had turned into a 1 hour and 45-minute timed event because of its slow pace.

Luckily for Gue and Hinchcliffe, more yellows kept running the clock down. When the green flag waved again on Lap 39, there were just more than 17 minutes remaining on the timer.

Two laps later, Karam spun in Turn 13 for another caution. When racing resumed, eight and a half minutes remained in the race. So long as Hinchcliffe had a great restart, it seemed the race could be his.

Hinchcliffe did just that as the green flag waved, but moments later, Ryan Hunter-Reay nudged Simon Pagenaud approaching Turn 3, causing Pagenaud to go off course before returning to the track and violently making contact with Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais.

Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud crash in the 2015 Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. Photo: Bret Kelly/IndyCar

While all drivers walked away from the accident safely, the crash essentially guaranteed the race would end under caution. Hinchcliffe coasted around the track behind the pace car for the remaining seven and a half minutes to collect his fourth victory in IndyCar competition.

James Hinchcliffe celebrates after winning the 2015 Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. Photo: Chris Owens/IndyCar

“When we first decided to stay out, I thought ‘Ah, wouldn’t it be funny if we could make this a one-stopper,’ ” Hinchcliffe told NBC Sports in victory lane. “On one hand, I feel bad that we didn’t have more green-flag laps for the fans and everyone else here at NOLA, but on the other hand, those guys called it awesome.”

While the weekend was a great one for Hinchcliffe, it was a disaster for race promoters. The race failed to draw more than 10,000 spectators, and both race promoters and the company that installed the grandstands for the race sued the track for lack of payments. IndyCar has yet to return to the facility.

Also on this date:

1982: IMSA competitor Ryan Dalziel was born in Glasgow, Scotland. Dalziel won the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona with Action Express and the 2017 Petit Le Mans with Tequila Patron ESM.

1987: Roberto Guerrero went from last to first to win the Checker 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, the first of two victories in CART for the Colombian.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).