James Hinchcliffe: “It’s so nice to be back up top after the kind of season that we’ve had”

by Jordan Groves

After claiming his first victory of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series in yesterday’s Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa SpeedwayJames Hinchcliffe has said that he is proud of everyone at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the way they have performed in recent races.

After qualifying firmly in the middle of the pack in eleventh place, Hinchcliffe quickly got to work when the green flag flew to start the race. It became apparent over the opening stages of the race that the #5 SPM Honda was one of the best cars of the day, as he scythed his way through the order to bring himself into contention for the win.

Josef Newgarden had looked to be hard to beat in the early stages of the race, but when the pack was brought back together after a caution at the halfway mark, Hinchcliffe became a massive threat. It was shortly after the final planned pit-stops that Hinchcliffe made his move to pass Newgarden for the lead, as the Team Penske driver struggled to negotiate lapped traffic.

A late caution with seven laps to go presented a potential problem for Hinchcliffe, who had his ten-second race-lead destroyed. The team elected to leave James out on the track, whilst Newgarden and Hinchcliffe’s team-mate Robert Wickens pitted from second and third place for fresh tyres. They were hoping that the race would be restarted and that they would have a chance to use their tyres to challenge Hinchcliffe for the win.

However, the opportunity failed to materialize. There was not enough time left in the race to get back to the green flag. The pace car remained on the track for the remaining laps, leaving Hinchcliffe to come home to take the victory, whilst Newgarden and Wickens had to settle for fourth and fifth having lost out to Spencer Pigot and Takuma Sato as a result of the pit-stops.

For Hinchcliffe, it was a fantastic moment. His last victory had come over a year previously at the 2017 Grand Prix of Long Beach. In that time, he has had a very difficult time in the series. Perhaps the most disappointing day of his IndyCar career came back in May when he unbelievably failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500; a race that he had previously taken pole position for.

It was a massive blow for himself and the team back in May, but after taking victory yesterday in Iowa, Hinchcliffe stated that the win had gone a long way to healing the wounds from Indianapolis.

“Very good day. The best day,” Hinchcliffe said in victory circle yesterday, “You know, it’s so nice to be back up top after the kind of season that we’ve had, and obviously the month of May that we had.”

Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar

“I’m just proud, honestly – proud of this group because something like what happened to this team in May can really get you down,” He continued later on, “Obviously that’s our Super Bowl. That’s our Wimbledon. That’s our Masters all wrapped into one. To miss it is a huge blow for every single member of the team. … We had grown men like in tears, like a lot of them in a lot of tears on bump day there. It just shows how much it means to us.”

Heading into Iowa, Hinchcliffe was on a run of positive form. Seventh place at Texas Motor Speedway and tenth place at Road America, coupled with a mid-season test at Iowa Speedway a week before the race, meant that both James and the team entered the race weekend with a positive attitude and some great momentum.

“We’ve had a couple good weekends in a row.” James said, “Really just strong performances from the whole team, kind of felt some momentum coming in here, we tested here last week, and I’m very glad that we did for sure. I think that was a huge advantage. All the guys that came here seemed to be kind of up top this weekend.”

James would go on to explain how his race had panned out, explaining that whilst their car had not been up there on single-lap speed in qualifying, the team had focused on setting up a car that could cope with running multiple lines on the speedway; a factor that helped Hinchcliffe deal with the lapped traffic much better than Newgarden had been able to.

“Come the race, we didn’t qualify particularly well,” said Hinchcliffe post-race, “We had a bit of a problem but we weren’t working on a quick car, we were working on a good car over a stint. We’ve won at Iowa before, and the key is taking care of your Firestone (tires). The key is having a good car in Lane 1, Lane 2, being able to get through traffic, and that’s ultimately what we did.

“We got through a bunch of cars in that first stint, got through a couple more in the pit cycle, didn’t have as good a car in the middle part of the race. Josef was just so dominant, I didn’t think we had anything for him. I thought we were kind of running for second, to be honest, and then that last stop, the Arrow crew just nailed it on the pit stop, gave us a really good change and the car just came alive.

“I was able to put it wherever I needed it to get through traffic and that’s the only reason I was able to catch Josef and ultimately get by him. I think he was a bit quicker in clean air. But can’t thank the guys enough for such a great car and great job in the pits.”

This weekend, Hinchcliffe and his team-mate Robert Wickens will be hoping for another strong race, as the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to their home country of Canada for the 2018 Honda Indy Toronto. The race will take place on Sunday, July 15.

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