Monday, March 25, 2013

Hinchtown Takes Indycar Win at St. Pete

James Hinchcliffe got his first Indycar win at St. Petersburg
Although it has been about a month since my ill-fated trip to the Daytona 500 was derailed by winter weather, I got just the salve I needed to soothe my soul this weekend, even though I couldn't get to St. Petersburg. Canadian James Hinchcliffe won his first Indycar race in the adopted hometown of Dan Wheldon Sunday and did so with class and style. Hinch was chosen in 2011 by Michael Andretti to take over the GoDaddy ride following Danica's defection to NASCAR and Danny's untimely death. Now barely a year and a half later, Hinchtown ruled the streets of St. Petersburg to win an Indycar race (and the first for GoDaddy in Indycar) where Dan Wheldon Way is part of the circuit. Andretti Autosport has historically done well at St. Pete and Hinch was spot on for the last third of the race. He held off last year's winner Helio Castroneves for the last 26 laps after Helio outbraked himself on a late restart going into Turn 1 and Hinch swept past him to take a lead he would not surrender despite constant pressure from Indycar's resident spiderman.

When the checkered flags finally waved, everyone at the front was pretty much out of tires, and Simona DiSilvestro was the unfortunate victim of several late passes as a result, dropping her from a solid third place finish to sixth at the end. The Swiss Miss was the real star of the race from what I could see on the NBC Sports Network broadcast as Simona started third and drove the wheels off of her KV Racing machine, seemingly destined to post her best ever Indycar finish. Marco Andretti made a late charge to steal third from Simona, then she also got swamped by Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon at the finish line.

It was a thoroughly entertaining race to watch as the normal frontrunners seemed to begin the season with bad luck or encountered a calamity of one sort or another. Will Power started on pole (again) but ended up as an inadvertent launch pad for JR Hildebrand during a caution period. Anyone with a Honda engine seemed to be slow, and Target Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon were well off the pace Friday and Saturday, forcing them both to start deep in the field. Dario tried to make up for it during the race Sunday on cold tires and crashed out of the race following a pit stop. Graham Rahal got involved in contact in his first race for his father Bobby's team, and Sebastian Saavedra had a strong run going for Dragon Racing (Team Sebastian) until contact took him out.

Bright spots for the weekend included rookie Tristan Vautier's strong qualifying and race performance. He was quite impressive all weekend but was bitten by a mechanical bug that knocked him out of a sure top-six finish. Scott Dixon's run from 20th to 5th was impressive as was EJ Viso charging from 22nd to 7th in his first race for Andretti Autosport. More impressive was Viso's apparent maturity in keep his car off the wall and away from other competitors as he moved up in the field. I don't think he would have been able to do that prior to this season, so perhaps the Andretti backing will be the steadying influence he needs. Takuma Sato took 8th in his first race for AJ Foyt Racing, ahead of Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani.

I had lots of friends at St. Pete but unfortunately I could not make the trip this year. I am still hopeful of shooting the Indycar/GrandAm event at Barber Motorsports Park in less than two weeks but I still do not have credential confirmation as yet. Not going to Daytona for AP was a huge disappointment for me but if things work out for Barber, that will all be forgotten. There is some uncertainty around my racing photography this season since the publication I have been shooting for since 2006 is gone following demise of American Motor Journal after the unexpected passing of AMJ's editor  Don Hamilton last fall. I do have a few irons in the fire for ARCA and NASCAR but Indycar is my first love, and I know I do good work when I am at the tracks. With a little more than two months left to teach this school year, summer will be here soon and I know I will be shooting races somewhere. I hope to see you at the track along the way, and if you hear about anyone needing a motorsports photographer, then please send them my way! Let's race.