James Hinchcliffe triumphs in Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Chris Jones/INDYCAR

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

James Hinchcliffe’s last visit to California ended just short of a victory in a runner-up result in “Dancing With the Stars”, but the Canadian improved by one spot on Sunday in his first victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Driving the No. 5 ARROW Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Hinchcliffe made the most of a two-stop strategy and held off a late charge from St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais to claim his fist Verizon IndyCar Series victory in nearly two years, and the first for a Canadian at Long Beach since Paul Tracy’s second triumph in 2004.

“A lot has changed since the last time we were sitting up here,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s just so nice to be back. We came really close last year. A lot of people talked about 2016 as sort of the comeback year. Personally we really wanted to as a team to put an exclamation point on that by coming to Victory Lane.

Bourdais crossed the line 1.4940 seconds behind Hinchcliffe to claim second for Dale Coyne Racing, with Josef Newgarden rounding out the podium for Team Penske in third.

The race started off with Scott Dixon surging ahead of pole sitter Helio Castroneves to take the early lead. However, the first incident of the day would come shortly thereafter as Will Power and Charlie Kimball made contact that saw Kimball eliminated from the race and Power out of contention.

From there, the race came down to its typical tale –  a battle of pit strategy.

Much like in recent years, the choice for teams came down to making two or three pit stops during the 85-lap race. With an additional five laps added on to the former 80-lap event, the prevailing thought was that most would be required to pit three times to survive the full distance on the 1.968-mile street circuit.

However, in the end it was a two-stop strategy that prevailed.

Dixon appeared to have the dominant car early, but the Chip Ganassi Racing shoe surrendered the top spot on lap 16 when his team elected to take a three-stop strategy. Meanwhile, Ryan Hunter-Reay shot out to the lead.

From that moment on, the two-stop teams controlled the day. Teams on a two-stop strategy would lead all but 17 of the race’s final 70 laps, with Dixon holding the top spot briefly between stops.

Hunter-Reay appeared poised to contend for his first victory of the season, but he lost the lead to Hinchcliffe when the Canadian managed to stretch his fuel for one more lap the Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi on the second round of stops.

Hinchcliffe inherited the lead following Dixon’s final stop on lap 63, and didn’t relinquish it until the checkered flag flew.

Dixon’s day ended in a fourth-place result, while defending champion Simon Pagenaud overcame a flat tire to finish fifth. Ed Jones, Carlos Munoz, Spencer Pigot, Castroneves and Graham Rahal completed the top 10.

Hunter-Reay and Rossi both failed to deliver on their winning potential as both drivers were doomed by a loss of power in separate instances. None of the Andretti cars finished the race, with Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Rossi and Marco Andretti coming home in 17th-20th, respectively.

Hunter-Reay’s late failure led to a full-course caution with just seven laps remaining, but Hinchcliffe easily fended off Bourdais on the ensuing restart to claim his fifth-career IndyCar win.

Results

  1. James Hinchcliffe
  2. Sebastien Bourdais
  3. Josef Newgarden
  4. Scott Dixon
  5. Simon Pagenaud
  6. Ed Jones
  7. Carlos Munoz
  8. Spencer Pigot
  9. Helio Castroneves
  10. Graham Rahal
  11. JR Hildebrand
  12. Mikhail Aleshin
  13. Will Power
  14. Max Chilton
  15. Tony Kanaan
  16. Conor Daly
  17. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  18. Takuma Sato
  19. Alexander Rossi
  20. Marco Andretti
  21. Charlie Kimball

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