No driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series needed a top-five run any worse than James Hinchcliffe, and in Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 the Canadian was able to cash in on just that.
After missing the 102nd Indianapolis 500 with less-than-stellar qualifying speed, things had been looking bleak recently for the seasoned Hinchcliffe.
In race one of the Detroit doubleheader last weekend, Hinchcliffe would start 9th and finish 11th in an unspectacular race, only to be disappointed furthermore in race two after qualifying 6th and then dropping to 16th for a final finishing position.
Fast forward to this weekend’s race in the Lone Star State and the outlook wasn’t much better. While his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Robert Wickens ripped off a two-lap qualifying average that would have him starting 4th, Hinchcliffe and his crew were left scratching their heads when the No. 5 ARROW Honda lined up 15th on the grid.
The 31-year-old Hinchcliffe lamented the qualifying structure where teams were forced to a time trial session that was held four hours earlier in the day than the scheduled green flag for the race.
“We don’t run in track conditions like this any other time of the weekend, so the only time you’re running with 130 plus degree temps is when you’ve peeled all the downforce off and you’re going for broke in qualifying,” Hinchcliffe explained.
“That’s the toughest part – the unknowns. I don’t think we did the best job in the Arrow Electronics car today, unfortunately. We’ll do what we can in the race tomorrow, and like it’s been said, you can win from anywhere here.”
And while they didn’t make up all of the ground (Scott Dixon was dominant in his 43rd career victory), it was a massive result for the No. 5 team to come home with a top-5 after 248 grueling laps.
Following the first fuel stint, Hinchcliffe had worked his way from 15th all the way into the top-10. That was before disaster struck and a fuel hose issue wiped out much of the progress made early on. Nonetheless, Hinch slowly began chipping away at his competitors as the evening wore on.
The pole sitter Josef Newgarden had his slew of issues before finishing 13th, and contenders Ed Carpenter and Wickens would eliminate themselves on lap 171 to open the door a bit wider for a fine finish.
Despite a few late cautions and wild restarts, Hinchcliffe was patient and measured with his approach and that allowed him to hold of the reigning IndyCar Series race winner in Ryan Hunter-Reay for 4th while challengers Graham Rahal (6th), Takuma Sato (7th) and Sebastien Bourdais (8th) slugged it out behind them.
“We were making progress on that first stint – we were one of the last cars to pit,” said Hinchcliffe after the race. “We made up a good chunk of time, and then we had a problem with the fuel hose that first stop, lost a lot of track position. The No. 5 Arrow Electronics car was really good tonight.
“We didn’t have the speed we wanted in qualifying, but we’ve always said here that it is probably the least-qualifying sensitive track. We made some great passes on track and managed to make those tires last. That’s what it was about today: making those Firestone tires last.
“The SPM guys did a great job with that. Happy to rebound from P15 (in qualifying). I hope Robbie (Wickens) is all right – sucks to see a team car go out, especially when he was running well like that. Good result for the No. 5 car.”
While he remains 11th in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship, Hinchcliffe is knocking on the door of the top-10 now as he trails Marco Andretti by just 4 points in the standings. Following Wickens’ crash, Hinch is only 35 points from his teammate in 7th place.
Hinchcliffe, Wickens and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series will get next weekend off following a grueling stretch that has had teams working non-stop since early April.
Action picks up again on June 24 for the KOHLER Grand Prix from Road America, the longest track on the circuit. The green flag is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Eastern and the race will be broadcast live on NBCSN and the IndyCar Radio Network.
Image courtesy of Christopher Owens/INDYCAR Media.