Fast Start Has Hinchcliffe Thinking Title
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tears, not sweat from 110 taxing laps, began to blur his vision as his Chevrolet-powered No. 27 GoDaddy.com car glided across the finish line 1.0982 seconds ahead of Helio Castroneves in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The tears were from joy, relief and gratitude.
It was the second-year Andretti Autosport driver’s maiden IZOD IndyCar Series victory, the first by a Canadian in Indy car racing since Paul Tracy in 2007, and in the adopted hometown of 2005 race winner Dan Wheldon.
Hinchcliffe dedicated the victory to Wheldon, who was to drive the new GoDaddy.com-sponsored car in 2012 but died in an October 2011 racing accident. A monument was dedicated to Wheldon three days earlier, along with a column reserved for winners of the St. Pete event.
Hinchcliffe’s name will be added, joining luminaries Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Will Power and Graham Rahal – all of whom competed March 24 in a stout lineup that will challenge for the championship through Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway.
“I don’t think we can understate how deep the talent field is right now. It’s as good as it’s been arguably in the sport’s history,” said Hinchcliffe, who two seasons ago missed competing at St. Petersburg because of funding that didn’t come through until the second race.
“The guys in the heyday of the mid-90s will tell you that; the competition is great. You see great racing all the way through the grid, and with more of the drivers returning from last year and a couple of new guys coming in I think we’re set. With the same car, there’s no reason the racing shouldn’t be as good or better.”
The race was suspenseful and entertaining from green flag to checkered, with the top-six finishers unsettled with two laps remaining on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course. Crashes involving pole sitter Power and four-time series champion Franchitti added to the drama. Mechanical issues that relegated reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay to 18th place and rookie Tristan Vautier, who started sixth but retired in 21st place, supplemented the intrigue of ninth running of the race under IndyCar sanction.
It was, as winning team owner Michael Andretti said, a hard-earned victory. He expects the remaining 15 events, including three grueling doubleheader weekends, to be just as jumbled in the second year of the chassis-engine package.