James Hinchcliffe was having one of those “if not for bad luck …” days.
Nine laps into the first practice session of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the carbon fiber of the No. 06 Sprott car was akin to kindling with Hinchcliffe encumbered by a six-point harness.
It was, he quipped, “like a baptism by fire.”
Then, rolling out the Newman/Haas Racing back-up car for the afternoon session on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street circuit, the Canadian driver fought “a couple of little issues.” In total, Hinchcliffe got in 25 laps for the day and 69 for the three sessions over two days preceding qualifications (33 laps behind the field-high 102 of Charlie Kimball).
“It was not a great thing to happen,” he said.
But race day was an entirely different experience for Hinchcliffe, who was competing in his second IZOD IndyCar Series race. Starting 11th in the 27-car field, Hinchcliffe steered clear of potential trouble on the narrow circuit and re-starts for a positive end to the weekend [with a fourth place finish].
“I don’t know if we expected a top-five finish going into the race after what happened on Friday with the fire but we will definitely take it,” said Hinchcliffe, who won the Firestone Indy Lights race on the street course a year earlier. “After all of the hard work that these guys put it, it’s really what they deserve.
“I don’t think we started where we should have; we missed the setup a bit in qualifying. It was funny being really disappointed with an 11th-place qualifying position, which for a rookie I guess most people think is alright, but such is the level of this team.”
Hinchcliffe, who didn’t compete in the St. Petersburg opener, rose 10 places to 17th in the championship standings and is five points behind Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader JR Hildebrand (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing).
“There is no doubt we benefited a bit from some others misfortunes but that’s the name of the game,” he continued. “This finish speaks volumes for what this team can do and the car they are giving me.”
Teammate Oriol Servia, driving the No. 2 Telemundo car, picked up two spots in the standings to fourth with a sixth-place finish (his third consecutive top 10). Five different teams are represented in the top five.
“I am very, very happy with how competitive the Telemundo team is,” said Servia, who qualified for the Firestone Fast Six for the second race in a row. “We had a strong performance the whole weekend and the team keeps moving forward. But I do have a bit of a bad taste in my mouth because this was probably the best race car I have ever had in a race and a podium was within reach.
“We’re consistent, we’re always there and the wins will come. We are working hard and it’s paying off.”