Hinchcliffe cheated death, danced his way towards mainstream stardom and now cemented himself as a winner at Long Beach
Nearly two years removed from his near-fatal accident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 18, 2015, James Hinchcliffe not only came back to drive the bright gold No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, he also returned to a familiar place. The top step of the podium.
Hinchcliffe held off points leader Sebastien Bourdais to win the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach in Long Beach, California Sunday.
It marked Hinchcliffe’s fifth career Verizon IndyCar Series win and the first since the rainy race at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana April 12, 2015.
Since his last win at New Orleans, Hinchcliffe’s life drastically changed.
A suspension failure during a practice session at Indianapolis sent Hinchliffe’s car into the wall entering the North Short Chute.
Flying debris went through Hinchcliffe’s left thigh and was losing tremendous amount of blood until a responding unit arrived.
Battling for his life, Hinchcliffe received treatment and has since made a full recovery.
One year after cheating death, Hinchcliffe returned to Indianapolis and put his car in pole position for the 100th Indianapolis 500.
Hinchcliffe’s journey continued during the off season as he took off his racing helmet and put on his dancing shoes for ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
Hinchcliffe and dance partner Sharna Burgess made it to the final round and voted runner-up to winners Laurie Hernandez and Valentin Chmerkovskiy.
Once dancing was put on the sidelines, Hinchcliffe looked for better results in 2017 after finishing 13th in points last year.
Now after two races, he sits second in the standings behind Bourdais.
In an interview, Hinchcliffe said the two-year journey wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his friends, family and race team.
“I knew from day one I had the best support around me,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’m so proud of everyone and what a phenomenal result. This race track has been good to me over the years and it’s always one that I wanted to be on top (of the podium). To finally get here is awesome.”
The win made Hinchcliffe the first Canadian since Paul Tracy (1993, 2000, 2003-04) to win at the prestigious circuit.
Hinchcliffe said joining Tracy as the only Canadians to win at the same site he won his first Indy Lights race (2010) and earned his first IndyCar top-5 (2011) and podium (2012) finish at the 1.968-mile street course.
“I watched Paul win here so it meant a ton to me,” Hinchcliffe said. “The greatest of the greats have won here. We had to fight and it didn’t come easy. We got a great start and got by a couple of guys in the start and second round of pit stops. Huge credit to the crew to get us out fast enough.”
While a small team was on top of the world, one of IndyCar’s top teams was plagued with car problems.
Andretti Autosport lost all four of their cars including the last two in a span of two laps.
Marco Andretti’s car was unable to restart his car and finished 20th after 14 laps.
Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi brought out the second full course caution on lap 63 after his car stopped at the frontstretch. Rossi took home 19th.
Takuma Sato went off the track on lap 79 and retired in 18th.
A lap later, the final full course caution came out after the last remaining Andretti Autosport car driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay had an electrical issue after running second behind Hinchcliffe.
Hunter-Reay finished 17th and dropped from fourth to eighth in points.
The 2010 race winner said it was a similar electrical issue that knocked him out of victory circle at Pocono Raceway Aug. 22, 2016.
“It’s really unfortunate and gut-wrenching,” Hunter-Reay said. “I started really logging some good laps and catching James. I could see the gap was closing and was going to be a good little fight at the end and then that happened again.”
Hunter-Reay said he was frustrated to have another electrical issue costing his chance of winning.
“It was so frustrating and we had a good showing Sunday,” Hunter-Reay said. “I tried cycling the car a few times, same thing as Pocono and wouldn’t fire. Once I was sitting there for a few moments back at the run off, we tried flipping a few switches and fires back up again which made it more frustrating.”
Hunter-Reay added his car had an overheated module and a failsafe shut the car down.
While Hunter-Reay struggled to repower his No. 28 DHL Honda, the race came down to a four-lap shootout between race leader Hinchcliffe, Bourdais and Josef Newgarden.
Bourdais was unable to catch Hinchliffe and finished second after winning the season opener at St. Petersburg March 12.
Bourdais said he lost balance of his car and couldn’t put on a fight towards Hinchcliffe.
“I really was trying to hang on to second place,” Bourdais said. “James really deserved the win, he looked very comfortable and quick in front. I didn’t really have the balance at the end to go and challenge him, so I tried to manage second and was kind of thinking about the championship.”
Bourdais extended his points lead to 19 over Hinchcliffe as the IndyCar Series travels to Birmingham, Alabama April 23 for its first permanent road course circuit of the season at Barber Motorsports Park.
Defending IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud is the defending race winner.