It was a popular win for the first-time IZOD IndyCar victor, JAMES HINCHCLIFFE/GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport Chevrolet, Sunday at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It was the new and improved “Hinch 2.0.” He took the lead on Lap 85 restart and never looked back. His Margin of Victory was 1.0982 over runnerup HELIO CASTRONEVES/Hitchachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Unlike his closest contenders who were running on the red alternative tires, Hinch opted for the primary blacks on his last pit stop and it paid off. Only four finishers were on blacks. Placers second through eighth ran alternates at the finish.
The expected rain never materialized and the ambient temperatures only declined slightly, from 77-75 degrees F/25-24C, while the track temperatures cooled more, dropping from 100-80 degrees F/38-31C.
“I’ve never been so emotional on the cool-off lap as this time. It’s all about minimizing mistakes and capitalize on restarts. With four to go just opened up the gap. It was the realiziation of a dream. I’ve always tried to be myself at the track. That last restart, man, Helio Castroneves there … he’s a three-time winner at this race. He’s on the reds. He makes a mistake. I get by, but I’m thinking, ‘He has 30 laps to get this back. It is so awesome. Dan’s hometown, Dan’s car. This one’s for him.”
The late DAN WHELDON was to have driven the GoDaddy.com car in 2012 for team owner MICHAEL ANDRETTI.
Weldon’s widow, SUSIE WHELDON, waved the Green Flag to start the race, and was glad that she didn’t drop it.
Third-place finisher was a newly-energized MARCO ANDRETTI/RC Cola Andretti Autosport Chevrolet, followed by TONY KANAAN/Hydroxycut KVRT-SH Racing Chevrolet, and SCOTT DIXON/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Finishing sixth after starting third and running fifth for most of the race was SIMONA de SILVESTRO/Nuclear Entergy Areva KVRT Chevrolet. De Silvestro had worn tires and knew she was falling back, but felt good about her finish, nonetheless.
Thirty-seven+ percent of the race was run under caution – 29 of the 110 laps, a point noted by many.
Fifteen of the seventeen finishers were on the lead lap. Two drivers retired for contact, each self-made into the wall – J.R. HILDEBRAND/National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet and DARIO FRANCHITTI/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The 2011 winner of the St Pete race took all the blame for the LAP 18 accident. “I was on cold tires and hit the marbles. It’s totally my mistake.” Franchitti further said that the Ganassi cars definitely have some work to do – perhaps in reference to reports over the weekend that team owner, CHIP GANASSI, was unhappy with Honda. Franchitti finished last, his worst-ever points situation. Hildebrand survived several incidents during the race, including an incredible leap frog performance over WILL POWER/Verizon Team Penske, for which he took the blame. JR ended after his second wall contact, finishing nineteenth.
The other five DNF’s were due to mechanical problems. Honda driver SIMON PAGENAUD and his Rookie teammate, TRISTAN VAUTIER/Florida Lottery c/w Schmidt Peterson Honda were both sidelined with broken exhaust problems. Vautier was especially stricken when he pitted while running a strong fourth, and retired in the pits. He finished twenty-first, after starting sixth. IndyCar Champion, RYAN HUNTER-REAY/DHL Andretti Autosport retired in the pits with throttle cable problems, after limping in with a flat tire. He finished eighteenth. JOSEF NEWGARDEN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda had several problems, with his day ending over clutch problems, for a twenty-third place finish.
Being the first Canadian to win an IndyCar race since PAUL TRACY in 1997 made for good Canadian TV commentary by BILL ADAMS and Tracy. Luckily Tracy found his credential after not being allowed into the track Friday morning after showing up without his credential.
Castroneves said “Hinchcliffe was especially in the Micky Mouse section, as I call it. As long as I was in front of him, it was going to be fine. Maybe I didn’t warm up my tires enough. Just a small mistake. I guess the old dogs still make mistakes. And good job Hinch. Congrats.”
Andretti said “I felt badly for Simona as it would have been her first podium.” He admitted he muscled her. “It’s a selfish business. I felt for her, but I needed this so bad. Like I said, it feels like a win. I’m just glad it wasn’t me who did it (pass her at the end to move her back to sixth position.) Credit to Simona, she drove helluva race.”
De Silvestro drove like the racer we all thought she could be – starting third, and running fifth most of the race, until the last few laps when first her veteran teammate, TONY KANAAN/KVRT Chevrolet and then Andretti took advantage of her fading tires. But she held on, as she did throughout the race, never seemed to turn a wheel wrong and ran a steady, consistent race. Impressive start for ‘The Swiss Missile.” She said “I think we can really learn from this and take this into next week at Barber. Have to minimize those little mistakes and do better.”
De Silvestro continued to get personal kudos from other drivers after the race, including MARIO ANDRETTI. Veteran sports car driver, ALLAN McNISH, watched the races from the grandstand and said “My man of the race was a lady.”
Pole sitter WILL POWER/Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was frustrated about several things, including the restarts. He was philosophical about Hildebrand’s leapfrog move over him under caution. “He came over and apologized after the race. He said he was just looking down at his steering wheel and he just ran over the top of me. It’s just a mistake, but that happens in racing. Then I made another mistake there and the end and it cost us four more places. I would really love to have a good day.”
The next race will be 7 April 2013 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. It will air live on NBC Sports.