James Hinchcliffe has been on the pace all weekend around the Streets of St. Petersburg, the venue for the first race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, and qualified an excellent third on Saturday.
The popular Canadian was able to dig deep when it mattered to qualify on the inside of the second row, and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was delighted that Honda have appeared to have raised their game this season after being primarily second best to Chevrolet for most of 2016.
Hinchcliffe feels it is important to get the season underway in a strong manner, and will be looking to take his second victory at St. Pete, having won with Andretti Autosport back in 2013.
“Obviously starting off the season strong is huge,” said Hinchcliffe. “Momentum in this sport and any sport really is a key to success, and winning the first one and getting off to that strong start always makes you feel good and keeps the team in the right state of mind.
“And (my win here in 2013) was the first one in my career, so obviously a pretty emotional day and one that I remember very clearly, and with our best starting spot here, obviously the competition up front is incredible.
“The Verizon IndyCar Series never fails to disappoint in that sense and congrats to Will [Power] and everybody at Honda to really step up their game, and happy to be starting inside of Row 2 and kind of see how it plays out tomorrow.”
Team-mate Mikhail Aleshin has not had the same kind of success this weekend, and the SMP Racing-backed Russian will start a lowly seventeenth after failing to advance out of his initial qualifying group, but he knows his fortunes could change on race day.
“It was quite a tough qualifying for us,” said Aleshin. “I was definitely expecting more, but tomorrow is going to be a long race. We are going to do everything possible to get a good result for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.”