Three years into his IndyCar career, Andretti Autosports pilot James Hinchcliffe has made the team his comfort zone, and it showed last weekend as he took advantage of two mistakes by rivals ahead of him to take his maiden series victory at St Petersburg.
“The Mayor of Hinchtown”, as he is affectionately known by those within the paddock, has served his apprenticeship and looked ready to pounce from his fourth place grid slot as a new season got underway in the seaside Floridian town. And pounce he did…beating Will Power out of the pitlane late in the race and then jumping ahead of Penske’s Helio Castroneves at a restart, whose cold tyres locked up and sent the Brazilian wide briefly at Turn 1.
For the first handful of laps, it appeared to be another episode of the Will Power show, as the Aussie opened up a lead of nearly 8 seconds before the first caution period ended that.
The yellows came out when Dario Franchitti, the last person people expected to be in the wall, found himself exactly there. He got offline coming out of the pit lane, ran onto the rubber marbles on cold tyres and became a passenger as he headed straight for the wall, ruining his front suspension and ending his day.
The race hadn’t been spectacular for Dario up to that point, with the three-time Indianapolis champion falling through the order with a number of impressive moves by rivals below.
One name running strongly out front that had to be seen to be believed was Simona De Silvestro. The Swiss Missile clearly had a new lease on life and her career now that she had a competitive engine underneath her, and it was paying dividends as she was camping out on the leaders’ gearboxes and always threatening to take the higher position as soon as one of them put a wheel wrong.
Another name to watch in the future was Sam Schmidt protégé Tristan Vautier. The next Flying Frenchman, already qualifying strongly in sixth, proved this was no fluke and remained there for much of the race, carrying out quick pit stops and finding himself as high as fourth before engine problems curtailed his day. Nonetheless, it was an impressive debut outing and podiums can’t be far away. Sam Schmidt sure has an eye for talent.
Likely considered to be the strangest incident of the weekend was what ended JR Hildebrand’s day and all but ruined Will Power’s run also. Power had been caught napping a number of times. He found himself passed by Hinchcliffe and then beaten out of the pits by teammate Hélio Castroneves.
Running in third place during a late caution period and cruising around in formation behind the safety car, Power sure wouldn’t have expected JR Hildebrand to come flying over the right hand side of his car between him and the wall. Nobody could. The freakish accident came about as leader Castroneves slowed right down to back the pack up ahead of the restart, but Hildebrand apparently wasn’t paying attention and the pack backed up in front of him, sending him over the top of Will Power, riding his car like a surf wave before landing heavily in the wall to the side.
It was an extraordinary accident and one which ended up costing Power too, who had to pit numerous times for suspension checks and to repair a puncture before resuming and eventually finishing well down the order. Hildebrand apologised profusely for the accident and claimed full responsibility, but it still provided the first eyebrow-raising incident of the year so far.
So once the now-delayed restart finally got going, the extra few laps under yellow while Hildebrand’s car was cleared obviously affected leader Hélio Castroneves, who locked his right front tyre going into Turn 1, ran wide and opened the gap James Hinchcliffe needed to sneak through.
Hélio managed to right himself and remain in second place, with the hard charging Marco Andretti coming home in a well-deserved third place. The young Andretti drove a calculated race, overtook plenty of cars ahead and took a well-earned podium finish.
So Hinch finally achieved what Danica Patrick couldn’t, and gave Go Daddy their first victory (Danica’s 2008 Japan win was in Motorola colours) in the Indycar Series. He was naturally elated and the result marked his coming-of-age as a top-flight driver. Even Hinch, always with his feet on the ground, admitted it was the first step and many more were still to come.
The next one comes on the weekend of April 6-7 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.
2013 IndyCar Series Grand Prix of St Petersburg Final Classification (110 laps):
|No.||Driver||Entry / Team||Laps||Result|
|1.||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport – Chevrolet||110||2:22:12.5502|
|2.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske – Chevrolet||110||+ 1.0982|
|3.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport – Chevrolet||110||+ 16.3364|
|4.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology – Chevrolet||110||+ 19.6083|
|5.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing – Honda||110||+ 20.7627|
|6.||Simona de Silvestro||KV Racing Technology – Chevrolet||110||+ 20.7890|
|7.||E.J. Viso||Team Venzuela – Chevrolet||110||+ 20.8229|
|8.||Takuma Sato||AJ Foyt Enterprises – Honda||110||+ 21.1878|
|9.||Justin Wilson||Dale Coyne Racing – Honda||110||+ 21.6832|
|10.||Alex Tagliani||Barracuda Racing – Honda||110||+ 22.5569|
|11.||Sébastien Bourdais||Dragon Racing – Chevrolet||110||+ 22.7354|
|12.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing – Honda||110||+ 24.5429|
|13.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda||110||+ 37.5324|
|14.||Ed Carpenter||Ed Carpenter Racing – Chevrolet||110||+ 45.2054|
|15.||James Jakes||Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda||110||+ 45.7793|
|16.||Will Power||Team Penske – Chevrolet||107||+ 3 laps|
|17.||Oriol Servià||Panther / D&R – Chevrolet||104||+ 6 laps|
|DNF.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport – Chevrolet||79||Mechanical|
|DNF.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing – Chevrolet||78||Accident|
|DNF.||Sebastián Saavedra||Dragon Racing – Chevrolet||72||Accident|
|DNF.||Tristan Vautier||SPH – Honda||69||Engine|
|DNF.||Ana Beatriz||Dale Coyne Racing – Honda||55||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Josef Newgarden||Sarah Fisher Hartman – Honda||50||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Simon Pagenaud||SPH – Honda09||26||Engine|
|DNF.||Dario Franchitti||Chip Ganassi Racing – Honda||18||Accident|