After failing to qualify for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 and finishing on the podium just once through the season’s first 10 races, it’s safe to say James Hinchcliffe has had a bumpy start to the 2018 Verizon IndyCar® Series season.
But the Canadian driver may be on the verge of turning his season around after a big win at the Iowa Corn 300 (July 8) and his hometown race up next on the schedule.
“Tires were the key to the race today,” Hinchcliffe said after his victory. “It was all about conserving those Firestones and we worked hard on that from the first lap of the first practice yesterday. We knew we had to make sure we could make the tires last and that’s what won us the race. Credit to Firestone for making such a good tire and credit to the team for making it last.”
Hinchcliffe took the checkered flag under caution after a piece of debris brought out the yellow flag with six laps to go. The victory was his first since the 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – 26 races ago.
After qualifying 11th, Hinchcliffe quickly worked his way through the field to battle for the lead, which is where Josef Newgarden spent most of the day. The defending series champion appeared to be on his way to his fourth win of the season, leading 229 of the race’s 300 laps, but it was Hinchcliffe’s car that dominated the last stint and he was able to pass Newgarden for the lead on Lap 256.
When the final caution came out on Lap 294, some drivers, including Newgarden, gambled by pitting for fresh Firestone Firehawk race tires in anticipation of a shootout in the final laps. Hinchcliffe chose to stay out to maintain track position and the lead.
The decision not to pit proved to be the right one as the track could not be cleared in time to return to green-flag racing. Hinchcliffe took the checkers with Newgarden finishing fourth.
First year full-time driver Spencer Pigot rallied from starting 18th to finish second, marking the best finish of his career. Takuma Sato came in third – his best finish since winning the 2017 Indy 500. Newgarden and Hinchcliffe’s teammate, rookie Robert Wickens, completed the top five.
The win bumped Hinchcliffe up to 11th in the driver point standings, but Scott Dixon remains in control of the championship battle with 411 points. Newgarden (378 points) is now second, followed by Alexander Rossi (370 points), Ryan Hunter-Reay (359 points) and Will Power (358 points).
Hinchcliffe will have a chance to keep it rolling next in his Canadian hometown, as the Firestone Racing team heads to the Honda Indy Toronto. Tune in to NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) July 15 at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT to see which driver will claim the victory on the Streets of Toronto.