(LONG BEACH, CA) – James Hinchcliffe is all the way back now. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, seriously injured in an Indianapolis 500 practice crash nearly two years ago, recorded his first IndyCar Series win since the incident by taking the checkered flag at the prestigious Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Driving the No. 5 Honda, Oakville’s Hinchcliffe crossed the finish line 1.4940 seconds ahead of Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, the winner of last month’s season opener.
Hinchcliffe’s last win came at NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015, a month before the crash, caused when a suspension piece on the car broke at 220-plus mph on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Hinchcliffe returned to racing last season and captured the Indianapolis 500 pole position, but had yet to win another race until Long Beach.
“To finally do what was goal No. 1 when we set out at the start of the season, to get back into winner’s circle, to do so as early in the season as we have, as convincingly as we did, was great,” said Hinchcliffe, who recorded the fifth victory of his seven-year Verizon IndyCar Series career. “After Indy and personally me for Toronto, this is the biggest one to win. I’ve had a lot of luck here. We’ve been really quick here in the past and to finally get to victory lane here is more than I can put into words.”
Hinchcliffe took the lead for good on the 63rd of 85 laps around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit which hosted Indy cars for the 34th consecutive year.
A full-course caution on the same lap, to tow in the disabled car of Alexander Rossi, helped Hinchcliffe save enough fuel to make it to the end and he held off Bourdais in a three-lap dash to the finish, following another yellow when Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had been running second, stopped on course with an electrical issue.
“This place has a lot of history, that’s what drivers really care about,” said Hinchcliffe. “The greatest of the greats have won here. Toronto, Indy and this place were on my bucket list to win before I die, and it’s nice to check one off.”
Bourdais, driving the No. 18 Honda, recovered from rear wing damage sustained from debris when the cars of Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball made contact on Lap 1. Coupled with his win March 12 in the Grand Prix of St Petersburg, it gave Bourdais a 19-point lead over Hinchcliffe in the championship after two of 17 races.
“The fuel saving we could achieve today with the performance we had on the Honda was amazing,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion, who won three straight Long Beach races from 2005-07. “I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one sort of came to us today.”
Josef Newgarden finished third in the No. 2 Chevrolet, earning his best Long Beach result and first top-three finish since joining Team Penske this season.
“It’s always good to get the first podium out of the way for the Captain,” Newgarden said of team owner Roger Penske. “It was a pleasure to drive this weekend. Verizon gives us great tools at Team Penske. It’s nice to get this one out of the way. Hopefully now we can hunt down some wins.”
The green flag drops on the Grand Prix of Alabama April 23 at 3:30pm as the IndyCar circuit visits Barber Motorsports Park, in Birmingham. The 2.38-mile permanent road course has 17 turns and features 80 feet of elevation change.
Newgarden finished first at Barber in 2015 and Simon Pagenaud took the checkered flag there last year.