Canadian James Hinchcliffe earns his maiden IZOD IndyCar race on the temporary St. Pete circuit after overtaking Helio Castroneves.
St. Petersburg, Fla. – James Hinchcliffe powered to his first-career IZOD IndyCar Series victory in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening race of the season for the famed open-wheel series.
Over-taking three-time race winner Helio Castroneves on the 85th lap, Hinchcliffe wasn’t to be denied as he raced to victory driving the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet fielded by Andretti Autosport.
For Hinchcliffe, his victory came in his 32nd IndyCar race, and his win was well received by his fellow competitors and the fans. Also, he gave sponsor GoDaddy its first major victory in racing.
“Winning is awesome, and it is beyond words,” Hinchcliffe said. “I have never been so emotional in a race car than I was on the cool-down lap. There was a lot of talk in the off-season about winning that first one and what we had to do to get there. My answer was always the same – we had to minimize mistakes. The package is good, the engineer is good and the team is good. That leaves me, and I just have to minimize mistakes. We did it today, capitalizing on restarts.
“That last restart was tough as we were on blacks (tires) and everyone else was on reds. Helio (Castroneves) made that little mistake but even then, I thought we would lead for a couple of laps but he had 30 laps to get us back. To hold off Castroneves, the guy that has won this race three times for 30 laps with me on so-called slower tires, it took absolutely everything out of me. But I was just so happy to get it done for GoDaddy and Chevrolet.
“With about four to go, I had opened up a little gap. All weekend we had struggled in the last corner, which leads onto the longest straightaway and the best passing opportunity, so I had to make sure I didn’t make a mistake out of (turn) 10.
“Winning is the realization of a life-long dream and being a winner in IndyCar is special for me and for Canada.”
His margin of victory was 1.0982 seconds.
Andretti Autosport is owned by Michael Andretti, and his cars finished first, third, seventh (E. J. Viso) and 18th (Ryan Hunter-Reay).
Regarding Hinchcliffe’s win and the team’s performance, Andretti bubbled, “It is awesome to see him win, and it makes you feel so good. To come out the way we did and with all of our cars running good is great. James (Hinchcliffe) was on it from the start and he showed to be very determined. He didn’t put a wheel wrong all weekend and he drove his butt off. I am very happy that GoDaddy got its first win with us.”
He also heaped praise on his son, Marco, and newcomer Viso.
Leading 42 laps, Castroneves held on for second in the Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, but he was disappointed with the outcome.
“Today, I had an incredible race car,” the flashy driver said. “We were strong at the beginning and started pushing ahead. My car felt good, and I was waiting for some of the guys to wear out their tires, so I could make my move to see what I had. Once I got the lead, I didn’t look back.
“On that last restart, I didn’t warm up my tires enough and made just a small mistake. Fortunately, no one was in front of me, as there would have been a big accident. After that I was really, really pushing, but my front was giving up. Also, Hinchcliffe was making good (turn) exits and was making no mistakes. I was going for it but toward the end, the track gave up and I had to settle for second. Second is better than nothing. When you have a good car, it is really hard to give up opportunities for a win.”
As the race wound down, Marco Andretti progressed up the leader board, forging into third at the end. He drove the RC Cola Chevrolet..
“For me, this feels like a win for the struggles I have been having and all I can say is that it feels great to have the hard work pay off, for sure,” the third-generation driver said.
One of his very late passes was of fan-favorite Simona de Silvestro, who ran third for many laps in the late going. Regarding that pass, Andretti commented, “I knew her tires were giving out. Although I feel sorry for her, this is a selfish business, and I needed that podium finish.”
Tony Kanaan got fourth with Scott Dixon, who started 20th, steadily moved through the field to gain fifth place on the last lap.
The top-four finishers drove Chevrolets while Dixon gave Honda its best finish.
With worn-out tires, de Silvestro dropped to sixth at the finish, but she ignited the crowd throughout with her passing and consistent run.
“It’s been a good weekend for us,” she said. “Unfortunately, we lost a few positions at the end as we kind of ran out of tires. I think we can be pretty happy with sixth. It was really cool to be up front all day with Will (Power), (James) Hinchcliffe and everybody; it was awesome.”
Seventh through 10th were E. J. Viso, Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani.
An accident during a caution flag damaged the third-place car of Will Power, forcing him to pit for a flat tire and a mirror replacement. In the incident, J. R. Hildebrand drove over the side of the Power car. Although dropping in the standings, he rebounded only to spin out of race on the 103rd lap, finishing 16th three laps behind.
Stated Power, “That’s a tough finish for us; it’s too bad as the Verizon car was definitely fast. (He led 26 laps.) Hildebrand came over and apologized after the race. He said he was just looking down at his steering wheel, and he just ran over the top of me. It’s just a mistake that happens in racing. Then I made another mistake at the end, costing us four more places.”
Dario Franchitti, another fan favorite, crashed out of the race early, finishing last in the standings. Said Franchitti, “We really struggled with the Target car this weekend. I was trying to make up for it and just stepped over the line on cold tires. It was totally my mistake.”
The IndyCar Series races again in two weeks at the Barber Motorsports Park, in Birmingham, Alabama, for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.