Two years ago, Hinchcliffe was walking around the paddock at St. Petersburg, waiting to make his series debut. He was set to make a week later due to how the deal had come together with Newman-Haas Racing in 2011.
Now, this year, Hinchcliffe was able to make the pass on Helio Castroneves late in the race to pick up his first victory of his IndyCar Series career.
“What a difference 24 months can make,” he commented. “Even last year was such a difference in my first race with Go Daddy, Andretti Autosport. We qualified, finished in the top five. That was a good result for us.”
Going into the final restart, Hinchcliffe thought that Castroneves was simply going to drive away from him as Castroneve had the red tires while Hinchcliffe had the blacks. A vibration in the first stint of the race with the red tires caused engineer Craig Hampson to make the call to run the blacks at the end.
“Just as the first stint went on, it just sort of developed a vibration, a sign of excessive wear,” Hinchcliffe commented. “Nothing wrong with the tire, just the way our car was handling it.
“When we did the second stint, the blacks were more consistent, even though they weren’t quite as quick. When we figured out how long the last stint was going to be, we had a used set.”
With the cold tires and Castroneves making the mistake, Hinchcliffe was able to slip by. Though the driver of the No. 27 Go Daddy Chevrolet admits that he wasn’t sure it was locked in the bag yet at that point.
“I’ll wait a couple laps, he’s on reds, I watched him walk away from me in the last stint,” Hinchcliffe said. “I figured he was going by. I was doing my own thing, trying to conserve my fuel and tires to make sure I could make it to the end. It’s a long stint at the end of the race there.”
Hinch let 10 laps go by, running his own pace, and noticed that Castroneves was right there with him, but not attacking.
“The big thing for me was just be absolutely inch perfect all the way around the track lap after lap,” he said. “I knew I had a couple more overtakes, so that was going to help.”
The call from Hampson to go with those blacks instead of the reds is what gave them the victory.
“The decision to throw the blacks on at the end is absolutely what I think gave us the win here today,” Hinchcliffe commented.
The win marks a good morality booster after finishing 13th last year at the final race of the season.
“Fontana was just the worst, longest day of my life,” Hinchcliffe commented. “It was so demoralizing going into the longest off-season in history with such a poor record finishing the season.”
Flash forward to today, now that Hinchcliffe has his first win under his belt, the focus has already shifted to the championship and who will be contending for the championship.
“To be a contender in this series is all about consistency,” he comments. “You cannot make mistakes. It’s so competitive, there’s so many guys willing to pounce on anything you do wrong, whether it’s in the pits, making a bad setup call or a driving error, people are going to take advantage of that.”
Last year, it was wrecks in Belle Isle and Iowa and an engine failure in Toronto that hurt Hinchcliffe’s chances, as well as other poor finishes late in the season. The result was the mayor of Hinchtown finishing eighth in points.